Will abortion bans be the central issue of the 2024 Republican primaries?
It certainly looks that way. After several candidates called for national restrictions in the debate stage, the widely recognized front-runner for the nomination, Donald Trump, expressed his view on the issue and made a bold promise.
“I think they'll all like me,” he told NBC's Kristin Welker, speaking about both sides of the abortion debate. “I think both sides will like me.”
It's a promise that seems impossible by definition, but one that points to Mr. Trump's real course in the primaries: a moderate on the issue of abortion bans, or at least a moderate by Republican standards. In the same interview, the former president called Florida's six-week abortion ban, enacted by his primary rival Ron DeSantis, a mistake. He also appeared to reject the idea of enshrining an abortion ban in federal law, at least without reaching consensus with the pro-abortion left.
It was a surprisingly centrist comment from the ex-president, putting him in line with his primary candidate Nikki Haley and further away from his former Vice President Mike Pence.
He went further, describing the problem as one that affects the Republican Party's ability to compete in national elections and in purple districts.
“Aside from certain parts of the country, you can't – you won't win on this issue. But you will win on this issue if you set the right number of weeks,” Trump said.
The position earned him a slight pushback from right-wing anti-abortion groups, and perhaps the first sharp attack from Mr. DeSantis, who has previously shied away from criticizing the front-runner.
“I don't know how you can even say you're pro-life when you're criticizing states for adopting protections for babies with heartbeats,” he told an Iowa radio station. “I think all pro-life advocates should know that he is preparing to betray you.”
Mr. Trump, the Florida governor added to ABC News, is “a different candidate today than he was in 2016.”
But the reprimands didn't end there. Every hard-line abortion candidate in the race and many of his surrogates took the opportunity to complain about Mr. Trump's willingness to seek national consensus on an issue widely blamed for fueling last year's attempt Republicans hampered their ability to gain a majority in the Senate and significantly weakened the party's momentum in the general elections.
“President Trump said he was going to negotiate with the Democrats and deviate from what I think we need to achieve, which is a 15-week limit at the federal level,” Sen. Tim Scott complained at a town hall in Iowa.
Kim Reynolds, the officially neutral governor of Iowa and widely seen as a supporter of Ron DeSantis, also spoke out.
It is clear that these are Mr. Trump's enemies want that this issue was a wedge with which they could scare away the former president's supporters. It's far less clear whether this will actually work.
Activist groups on the conservative side of the abortion fight were willing to criticize Mr. Trump's position, although some avoided attacking him by name.
“We need a National Defender of Life who will follow the consensus of Americans and not waste time negotiating with the abortion-free left, which is not interested in compromise on this issue,” said EV Osment with Susan B. Anthony Pro- Life America The Independent.
Ms. Osment claimed the Democratic Party's positions, with whom Mr. Trump wanted to negotiate, were “completely at odds with the American people.”
Another organization, Students for Life, called the ex-president's words “extremely disheartening” for the anti-abortion movement in an open letter to the ex-president.
“Abortion is the human rights issue of our time,” said Kristi Hamrick, the group’s media and policy specialist The Independent. “It is clear that the Democratic Party will make abortion a central issue in the election campaign, and if they do not want to appear weak or unprepared, Republicans must be prepared to respond.”
The abortion poll is complicated. A majority of Americans supported the status quo below Roe v. Wade, which made it illegal for states to enact restrictions that banned abortions before the pregnancy was viable. At the same time, however, polls show that a majority of Americans do not support the concept of unrestricted abortion; Many advocate banning the practice, with exceptions later in pregnancy.
Polls show that the extremes on both sides still have a long way to go before they can even come close to winning over the majority of the population. The right has suffered major backlash in blue and purple counties over proposed and actual abortion bans in deep red states, some of which provide no exceptions for rape, incest or when the pregnancy endangers the mother's life.
However, restrictions on access to abortion remain widespread among the Republican primary electorate, and so the issue may emerge as the first issue on which Mr. Trump's rivals can take a clear position to the right of him.