Prominent conservative activists spent the weekend at war — or in denial — over former President Trump’s remarkable criticism of the anti-abortion rights laws enacted by a vast majority of Republican-controlled states.
Why it matters: Trump is a walking contradiction on social issues. His record as the president whose Supreme Court nominees voted to overturn Roe v. Wade is often at odds with his own political instincts — raising difficult questions for social conservatives who find their influence in the GOP primary waning.
Driving the news: In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump vowed to bring “both sides” together in a grand compromise to limit abortion — with exceptions — after an unspecified number of weeks of pregnancy.
The former president slammed Republicans for backing abortion bans without exceptions and called the six-week ban signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — Trump’s chief rival for the GOP nomination — “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
More than a dozen states currently ban abortion in nearly all circumstances or after six weeks of pregnancy, including the first state in the GOP’s primary calendar: Iowa.
Just days earlier, Trump drew conservative criticism after being grilled by Megyn Kelly about transgender rights and his decision to allow Caitlyn Jenner to use the women’s restroom at Trump Tower.
“In 48 hours, Trump couldn’t answer if a man could become a woman and denounced pro-life legislation. I think I’ve seen enough,” conservative radio host Erick Erickson tweeted.
Conservative commentator Matt Walsh called Trump’s abortion answer morally “awful” and politically “stupid,” arguing: “You can’t win over Democrats by going squishy on this issue.”
Zoom in: SBA Pro-Life America, the nation’s leading anti-abortion rights group, issued a statement reaffirming the need for a 15-week “national minimum standard” but declining to address Trump’s comments.
“Trump just threw the entire [anti-abortion rights] movement under the bus. If they remain silent or just accept it, the credibility of the movement moving forward is gone,” conservative writer A.G. Hamilton tweeted.
The DeSantis campaign, which is aggressively courting evangelicals in Iowa, also had a field day with Trump’s comments on trans rights and abortion — accusing him of selling out conservative voters.
Between the lines: Trump recognizes that abortion has been a losing issue for Republicans over the last year. He also knows that — barring a mass grassroots rebellion — he’s on a glide path to the GOP nomination.
But the notion that Trump is strategically pivoting to the general election is belied by his continued boasts — including in the very same “Meet the Press” interview — about his role in ending abortion rights under Roe vs. Wade.
“In Donald Trump’s own words: He is the reason states across the country are able to ban abortion and are putting women’s lives in danger,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement.