In a special editorial at The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum took it upon himself to tell pro-lifers they can’t vote for Donald Trump. He says the point is “simple and unavoidable: If the man is not a covert supporter of legalized abortion, he has at least thought about the issue so rarely and so incompletely that he cannot articulate a coherent sentence about it. . . . A vote for Trump is a vote for abortion.”
Thanks for the advice, but no thanks, Mr. Bottum. Conservatives, especially those who care about social issues, are sick and tired of media and political elites telling them what to do. The Washington establishment has let them down, and they simply don’t trust them, which is why there has been a groundswell of support for Trump and Ted Cruz.
Bottum fails to grasp the extent and even legitimacy of this anger. Instead of respecting it, he tries to redirect it: “It’s often said that voters are angry at the ‘establishment Republicans’ who have failed to address in office the issues on which they campaigned. That same anger ought to be directed preemptively against Donald Trump.”
So pro-life voters should set aside their anger toward establishment Republicans for their actual failures and aim it at Trump for his possible failures? Trump may be a pro-life neophyte, but establishment types have never cared about that before, cravenly depending on pro-life voters yet not delivering pro-life legal victories or political champions. If people don’t care now, it’s only because Republicans taught them not to.
The GOP’s Terrible Pro-Life Record
On abortion, political insiders have been nothing less than cowards, a point made by my colleague David Harsanyi after the GOP failed to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood last fall in light of video evidence they were selling baby parts. Mona Charen in National Review called the failed hearings on Planned Parenthood’s seedy and potentially illegal actions a sign of the GOP’s ineptitude. “You guys do not understand how to hold a decent hearing,” Charen chided.
The House also failed to override President Obama’s veto of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act would have denied Planned Parenthood funding from Medicaid. The organization received more than $550 million from taxpayers in 2014 alone.
In 2015, House Republicans dropped a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks because of concerns the law would alienate women voters. The bill would have been Congress’ first anti-abortion legislation of the new session, but it failed miserably because the GOP caved to political correctness dressed up as the “war on women.”
Daniel Horowitz of Conservative Review called out the GOP for playing “bait and switch” with Planned Parenthood funding, revealing they’re not only cowards but two-faced cowards at that.
“The latest artifice from the GOP establishment is on display this week with their newest plan to make an end-run around the base and fund Planned Parenthood,” Horowtiz wrote. “This time they plan to highjack the budget reconciliation process and make it a shiny object for defunding Planned Parenthood, while ensuring that the final budget bill – the operative one funding the rest of the government – contains no such prohibition.”
Pete Spiliakos of First Things accused the Republican establishment of being indifferent to the pro-life movement. I would take it further and say they’re embarrassed by it. The GOP’s reluctance to fight for pro-life issues doesn’t make them pro-choice radicals, Spiliakos says, but it does make them compromisers who “put their own priorities first as often as they can get away with doing so. . . . Pro-lifers should keep that in mind as they deal with Republican politicians.”
What About Mitt Romney?
Bottum dictates to pro-lifers like a pontiff from on high and tells them they can’t vote for Trump if they’re really pro-life because he has been inconsistent on the issues and can’t answer tough questions with clarity. Yet the Republican establishment shoved Mitt Romney down our throats—a man who was once pro-abortion and weak on defending pro-life issues once he made the change.
In 2002, Romney said, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” and “I’m not going to change our pro-choice laws in Massachusetts in any way. I am not going to make any changes which would make it more difficult for a woman to make that choice herself.”
Then in 2005, Romney became pro-life and blocked a law that would expand access to chemical abortions. “I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother,” Romney wrote. “I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.” Sounds similar to Trump’s new position.
In 2011, Romney even said he would support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, something Trump has been weak on. But in 2012, Romney floundered on his commitment to outlaw abortion.
“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” Romney told the Des Moines Register. This stood in stark contradiction to his prior claim that he would support pro-life legislation, including the Hyde Amendment that bars the use of federal funds for abortions and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Yet, despite Romney’s pro-choice history and inconsistency on the issues regarding legislation, it was somehow okay for pro-lifers to support him. But when it comes to Trump, the same rules don’t apply. No doubt, Bottum would say one significant point of difference between the two men is Trump’s statement that women who get abortions should be punished. Trump quickly walked this back, but Bottum says this shows Trump “cannot even talk the talk.”
Punishing Women Who Abort Their Children
Trump’s comment certainly shows that he wasn’t well-versed in the debate, but the issue of punishing women who get abortions is a difficult one. Even pro-life establishment pros have defended taking punitive action against mothers who kill their babies.
Take a look at this long Twitter debate from 2014 with National Review’s Kevin Williamson and Charles Cooke (both severe Trump critics) where Williamson advocates punishing women who get an abortion.
Of course, some would argue that a pundit like Williamson isn’t running for office, and Trump is. But the case against Trump is that he was ignorant of established pro-life talking points. It seems those “talking points” aren’t as established as some think.
Trump—going with a gut reaction that is consistent with logic—voiced publicly what some people in the pro-life movement have wrestled with for years. Even respectable conservatives come down on the side of logic and consistency when they say, yes, women who decide to kill their babies without outside coercion should be punished for breaking the law (if abortion were illegal).
The fact that many in the pro-life movement have formulated arguments to get around this logical conclusion, often with appeals to grace in a difficult situation, does not change that this is a disputed matter, despite the pro-life party line.
To accuse Trump of being unfit as president from the pro-life perspective based on this point is disingenuous, given the real points of disagreement regarding crime and punishment within the pro-life movement itself. Yes, he should have been more knowledgeable, but no, this alone doesn’t disqualify him.
No, I Don’t Support Trump
Even as I make these points in response to Bottum’s post, I need to stress that I am not pro-Trump. He is weak on the Constitution and gives little indication that he will reduce the size and scope of the federal government and the office of the presidency in particular. Like Isildur in “Lord of the Rings,” he covets power and won’t be able to throw the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom if it comes to him. We need someone who can.
That being said, I do understand people who support Trump and their anger at both the establishment on the Right for its failures to reform the government and the politically correct bullies on the Left who are transforming our nation from land of the free to land of the entitled.
This is why when Bottum decided to tell pro-life conservatives how to vote and that they should be angrier at Trump than the establishment with its long record of deceptions and failures, I had to voice my opposition. I’m concerned that such an edict designed to guilt pro-lifers into never voting for Trump may put Hillary Clinton in the White House.
Clinton Is the Real Threat
This is something Bottum and everyone else who is unconditionally against Trump forget. Trump says he has changed his views. He’s still weak on pro-life issues, unreliable, and lacks finesse, but Clinton is hardcore pro-abortion.
With the next president choosing a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia that will tip the balance of the Supreme Court, the stakes are high for overturning Roe v. Wade. Given that fact alone, we must consider what lies before us and compare the candidates’ positions on abortion.
According to Clinton, “Politicians have no business interfering with women’s personal health decisions. I will oppose efforts to roll back women’s access to reproductive health care, including Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. As president, I’ll stand up for Planned Parenthood and women’s access to critical health services, including safe, legal abortion.”
Compare this to Trump, who wrote,
Let me be clear — I am pro-life. I support that position with exceptions allowed for rape, incest or the life of the mother being at risk. I did not always hold this position, but I had a significant personal experience that brought the precious gift of life into perspective for me.
The Supreme Court in 1973 based its decision on imagining rights and liberties in the Constitution that are nowhere to be found. Even if we take the court at its word, that abortion is a matter of privacy, we should then extend the argument to the logical conclusion that private funds, then, should subsidize this choice rather than the half billion dollars given to abortion providers every year by Congress. Public funding of abortion providers is an insult to people of conscience at the least and an affront to good governance at best.
Believe Trump or not, love or despise him, his position is pro-life compared to Clinton’s. That being said, we’re still in the primary season, and we have another candidate in the race who is consistently pro-life—Ted Cruz.
According to Cruz, “Life is a gift from God. It is our most basic right. Without life, there is no liberty. I have fought to protect the sanctity of life, including winning cases at the Supreme Court to restrict abortions. If I am elected president, I will instruct my Attorney General to investigate Planned Parenthood on day one and I will defend the dignity of life.”
I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote—that’s up to each person’s individual conscience. But if pro-lifers have only two candidates to choose from in the general, and it’s between Clinton and Trump, the choice for life seems clear. A vote for Clinton is a vote for abortion. Trump at least offers the possibility of victory for life—something the GOP establishment has failed to give us.