From the Center

Donald Trump, who was once a pro-choice Democrat, remade himself during his presidency as the ultimate pro-life warrior, appointing three abortion opponents to the Supreme Court and almost single-handedly overturning Roe v. Wade. Trump was once viewed with such suspicion by evangelical and fundamentalist voters because of his inconsistent political biography and his libertine personal life that he named Mike Pence as his running mate in order to reassure skeptical religious conservatives in 2016. But three justices later and a radically rearranged political landscape later, these same voters now see Trump as a hero in the anti-abortion wars.

But Trump no longer appears to be certain that he wants that role. While he clearly enjoys the adulation he receives from social conservatives, the former president has become understandably wary that the Court’s vote on Roe has created a powerful motivation for pro-choice voters to turn out this November and, in the process, potentially undermine his own prospects for returning to the White House. A series of ballot initiatives protecting abortion rights have passed across the country over the last two years, including several that have succeeded in strongly conservative states. And while Republicans did achieve a House majority in the 2022 midterm elections, the much-anticipated “red wave” failed to materialize, largely because of heightened turnout among pro-choice voters.

Trump has been fretting about this turn of events since shortly after the Court’s decision, worrying that overly strident pro-life Republicans are motivating the Democratic base and warning them to adopt less aggressive language on the issue. He angered social conservatives by blaming the midterm results on the abortion debate, strongly criticized Ron DeSantis for his support of a six-week ban in Florida, and has adopted somewhat of a middle-ground alternative that would instead set the threshold at a less restrictive sixteen weeks. Trump has also asserted that he can bring the various stakeholders together to achieve some type of middle-ground compromise that can make “both sides happy”.

But NBC News (Lean Left bias) reported last week that Trump has become even more concerned about his potential vulnerabilities in a prolonged argument about abortion, apparently asking associates if he could be damaged by selecting an especially ardent pro-life running mate. The NBC piece specifically referenced South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem as options who Trump believes could drive swing voters away from him because of their uncompromising views on the issue.

“The president understands it as a treacherous issue — one that you can actually trip up and fall on your face with,” said one source close to Trump. The source added that Trump would most likely not risk picking “someone with a six-week ban in their discussions or someone without any commitment on the exceptions.”

“He’s concerned it will have a drag on the ticket if they’re seen as holding too staunch a position.”

Scott and Noem have both been the subject of widespread speculation as to their potential for a place on the GOP ticket. Scott in particular is seen as bringing significant assets to Trump, both by his potential to increase support among Black voters for Trump but also because of how highly he is regarded by many of the largest Republican financial contributors, many of whom have shied away from Trump in this cycle. Trump’s legal troubles have put him at a sizable financial disadvantage, and Scott’s presence could reassure large-scale donors that Trump is worth their further investment. But his vocal advocacy for a full abortion ban could create a point of potential exposure that Trump seems to want to avoid.

Joe Biden has already prioritized abortion rights as one of his most important and advantageous political weapons, and Democrats are poised to wield the issue as a cudgel every day until November. Trump won’t be able to fully avoid these attacks, but he recognizes that presenting himself as a murkier target may help him maintain the backing of swing voters who support abortion rights but for whom it is not a priority.

It’s impossible to imagine Trump selecting a pro-choice running mate in today’s Republican Party, but it’s easy to understand why he’d be tempted by a quieter and more circumspect pro-lifer. This is one of the few instances in his political career where Trump’s instincts are encouraging a more cautious approach. But this is an instance where a less Trumpian strategy might be the right one.

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Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed and edited by Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias).

Photo Credit: REUTERS