Also, notably, Trump portrayed himself as a neutral arbiter, rather than an advocate and leader for social conservatives.
Well, there’s always the argument that abortion policy should be decided at the state level, right? Trump didn’t leave himself this out since he denounced, in the harshest terms, the six-week ban that Ron DeSantis signed in Florida.
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” he said of the legislation that’s been a long-held policy ambition of his own party. Trump’s condemnation naturally extends as well to Ohio, Georgia and Iowa, which have similar laws, if not governors with the temerity to be running against him for the Republican presidential nomination.
So far the reaction to Trump’s remarks has been muted on most of the social right, which is a sign that we may have passed an event horizon. In 2016, Trump had to hew to social-conservative orthodoxy to win the Republican nomination. Now, he may well define the orthodoxy.
Trump’s 2016 run showed the relative strength of various parts of the Republican coalition. He jettisoned entitlement reform and survived, even thrived, because of it, and the same was true of free trade.
Fiscal conservatives were relatively weak. If Trump had been a moderate on abortion or gun rights, though, it probably would have been a different story.
If Trump had said anything like his “Meet the Press” comments in 2016, he’d likely have lost the nomination — with Ted Cruz happily slicing and dicing him.
Political circumstances are different now, of course. The party is freaked out about the politics of abortion in a way that it wasn’t in the pre-Dobbs era, and open to more pragmatism.
Still, Trump clearly is playing by different rules. Not too long ago, the great former Indiana GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels became political persona non grata in the party by suggesting a truce on cultural issues.
Trump can rely on his supporters to deploy contradictory justifications for whatever he says or does.
If he says things that go way too far and potentially turns off voters, it’s because he’s a fearless truth-teller — whereas anyone who objects on grounds that Trump should be more politically careful is a RINO sell-out who needs to learn from Trump’s bold example.
If Trump says something that throws an important conservative cause under the bus or communicates a willingness to compromise, it’s because he’s ruthlessly practical and focused on electoral success — whereas anyone who objects on grounds that Trump should be more courageous and principled is a heedless zealot who doesn’t care about winning.
The common thread is that Trump is right no matter what he says or how he comes down on an issue.
Trump is right when he’s the most “pro-life president in American history,” as former Vice President Mike Pence put it back in 2018. (And that was before he delivered the court that would throw out Roe v. Wade.)
He’s also right, or not so wrong as to be roundly criticized, when he’s clumsily trying to find an off-ramp on the issue.
Trump may now be bigger than any cause, or put another way — he’s the cause. He doesn’t need a transactional relationship with social conservatives any longer, if many of those voters now value the relationship for its own sake.
Perhaps DeSantis and other candidates can use Trump’s comments against him in Iowa, but it’s proven difficult to convince anyone Trump is a moderate on anything to this point. Since he himself is in many regards the main cultural issue in our national life, he’s by definition a culture warrior. How soft can the guy promising “retribution” really be?
All that said, Trump will eventually probably try to clean up his remarks, and he’ll have more latitude to do it because his supporters are so forgiving. He can say he’s decided, after all, that 15 weeks is the best cut off for a federal prohibition but that, wouldn’t you know, Democrats are more unreasonable than he thought and a deal isn’t possible.
As for the Florida ban, maybe he’ll avoid calling it “terrible” in the future and say he’s happy to defer to the states.
One way or the other, he’s likely to get away with his heresy because so many of his supporters believe, almost by definition, that he’s not capable of it.