It was bad enough when the press took a serial liar’s gestures at moderation at face value in 2016, it’s even worse when they do it when he has an actual track record as president:
Unlike his Republican rivals, who have “struggle[d] to address shifting views on abortion,” Trump has “effectively neutralized abortion as an issue during the Republican primary,” according to the New York Times analysis. The piece claims that “Mr. Trump has distanced himself from more restrictive abortion laws, favored by some in his party, seeming to recognize their unpopularity.” The story glosses over Trump’s actual record and policy positions, instead framing him as someone who has “been on many sides of the abortion issue over the years.”
An Associated Press (AP) article published last noted that Trump says he “would negotiate with Democrats on abortion legislation.” The article notably gave zero details on what such a “negotiation” would entail and did not challenge the plausibility of the idea.
Similarly, a Politico article from September claimed that Trump has taken a “moderate turn on abortion” and “boxed in the deep-pocketed anti-abortion groups.” The article ends with a discussion of how “[s]ome Democrats and abortion rights activists are also worried Trump’s calls for compromise and moderation could win people over.”
Trump’s commentary on abortion has received similar treatment in other prominent outlets. Semafor reported that Trump had adopted a “general election” strategy and is “pivoting to positions that are to the left of many social conservatives.” Newsweek claims Trump has warned Republicans “to get realistic about abortion.”
Trump has played this game before. In 2016, Trump made headlines after saying during an interview that he would change the Republican party platform to create exceptions for abortion bans. “Trump Calls For GOP To Moderate Its Platform On Abortion,” an NPR headline blared.
But there was nothing moderate about how Trump dealt with abortion in his first term. And there is nothing to suggest that his second term will be anything different.
Trump’s track record is not ambiguous. He would sign any abortion ban and/or regulation a Republican Congress put on his desk, would only appoint judges who think Dobbs was correct, and will allow the regulatory state to obstruc abortion in any way he can. His allegedly “moderate” rhetoric on abortion is exactly as meaningful as his claims that his never-existent healthcare plan would cover everyone for less money (while his actual policy was to take healthcare away from tens of millions of people to pay for an upper-class tax cut.)
And he’s not even saying otherwise if you look carefully:
If elected in 2024, Trump has promised to continue to appoint anti-abortion judges, who could further limit reproductive rights. Before the 2016 election, Trump released “a list of [anti-abortion] judges he pledged to appoint to the Supreme Court as president.” In June, in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Trump “promised to again release before Election Day a list of potential nominees for any Supreme Court openings.” Future Trump-appointed judges could further erode reproductive rights by making it more difficult to obtain abortion pills or imposing other restrictions.
Despite media reporting suggesting otherwise, Trump has never said he opposes a national abortion ban. He said he is open to it and supports using the power of the federal government to further restrict abortion rights. In a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Trump said that there is “a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”
In April, during an interview with WMUR, Trump was asked if he would sign a 15-week abortion ban. “We’re looking at a lot of different options… and we’ll get something done where everyone is going to be very satisfied,” Trump said. When pushed to clarify if he meant on a national level, Trump said, “I think we’ll get it done on some level, it could be on different levels, but we’re gonna get it done.”
In September, during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump was asked if he believed abortion rights should be decided by federal law. “It could be state or it could be federal. I don’t frankly care,” Trump said, adding that he “can live with it either way.”
Trump has not staked out a more moderate position. He is just being purposefully evasive.
As always, the “moderate” Trump does not exist, so it is imperative that a media that wants a horse race invent one.