Seasoned Republican operatives are crediting Donald Trump with delivering a carefully calibrated message on an abortion question that has avoided antagonizing his evangelical supporters who are crucial to victory in Monday’s Iowa Caucuses.
The care that the frequently improvisational Trump is devoting to the issue was on display in Wednesday night’s Fox News town hall, where he delivered a lengthy answer that took credit for ending Roe v. Wade while pitching pragmatism and defending his positions in support of exceptions on abortion bans.
‘Now, I happen to be for the exceptions, like Ronald Reagan, with the life of the mother. Rape, incest, I have — I just have to be there,’ Trump said.
He was responding to a question by an undecided Iowa GOP voter who told him, ‘I’d like for you to reassure me that you can protect all life, every person’s right to life, without compromise.’
Trump delivered an answer that was all about compromise.
President Donald Trump gave a nuanced answer about abortion at the Fox News town hall in Iowa on Wednesday night
‘At least so far, both in the national polling and in the primary or state-specific polling including an Iowa Trump does not appear to be paying a price for making some of these statements about … “look, we have to have the exceptions. We have to find consensus on a federal solution to this. We need to primarily let the state take the lead,”‘ said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
He told DailyMail.com on a call with reporters that Trump ‘probably treated a little differently than he would have been eight years ago as a candidate because he has a record’ that runs from defunding Planned Parenthood to nominating three of the Supreme Court Justices who ultimately struck down Roe v. Wade.
Trump is functioning ‘more as a quasi-incumbent then as a typical candidate for the nomination.’ Trump has addressed the issue in a ‘
‘I think it’s candidly, I think it’s one of the most fascinating and interesting things about this process has been that Trump has been able to kind of in a highly nuanced and sometimes amorphous way, addressed this issue with an eye to the general and at least so far has been hasn’t really paid up a penalty for it,’ he said.
That was an assessment shared by one of Trump’s rivals, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who Trump sometimes insults by contorting his first name.
‘It’s hard to figure,’ Hutchinson told DailyMail.com while driving through Iowa’s snow-covered roads Friday.
‘It is the comfort level with somebody who is is like a current officeholder, he is like an incumbent. And so it’s always hard to dislodge support from an incumbent. And the burden of proof is on those who are opposing it. And, you know, he’s got a case to make that he appointed conservative judges to the US Supreme Court. And so, people remember that and respect that. But what they have to understand is that he is using language that now undermines what the court is trying to do. And so I’m surprised at that consistent loyalty of the evangelical community toward Donald Trump. I do believe it will change this year. And it’ll start in Iowa.
”It’s hard to figure,’ said former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Trump’s appeal among evangelical Iowans
Trump has maintained strong support among evangelical voters through symbolism and through conservative appointments to the courts
Pastor Paula White, left, and other faith leaders pray with President Donald Trump, center, during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami
‘At some point you recognize that he does not reflect our national character. He doesn’t reflect humility that is expected out of public servants. There’s an arrogance. A there is an ego that gets in the way interferes with accomplishing the public good. And that’s becoming more clear to the evangelical community,’ said Hutchinson, who nevertheless credits Trump’s rise to the court cases against Trump, which ‘strengthened him versus weakened him in the short term.’
Trump campaign senior strategist Chris LaCivita said Trump has been consistent on the abortion issue – although way back in 1999 Trump declared himself ‘pro-choice in every respect.’
That preceded a 2016 campaign where Trump embraced evangelical voters in Iowa, posed with a bible, and vowed to install conservative judges on the courts.
Asked by DailyMail.com if Trump was directing his focus toward New Hampshire, where independents hold sway and Democrats can even change their registration to vote, LaCivita responded, ‘No, I think it’s been his position from day one. I mean, if anybody’s ever asked him that position as it relates to abortion, I think he’s made the statement pretty clear over and over again. But he he has always held the belief that there should be exceptions.’
He said pro-life voters ‘know first and foremost that Donald Trump’s appointments the United States Supreme Court are the reason why they’re even having the discussion. They know that the President’s position, frankly, is very much consistent. Nationally, where most pro life voters are which is they would rather have it remain with the states. Plain and simple.’
Trump knows the power of social conservatives in Iowa. They propelled Ted Cruz to a narrow victory in 2016, which set up a prolonged primary fight.
In his answer to the pro-life woman in Des Moines, Trump called his own political achievement a ‘miracle,’ and said people credit him for saving two million lives with the end of Roe v. Wade.
But then he circled back to exceptions, on an issue where about two-thirds of of Americans think abortion should be legal, while speaking in a state where Reed says 64 per cent identify as evangelical (with Trump winning a fifth of their support in 2016).
‘Now, I happen to be for the exceptions, like Ronald Reagan, with the life of the mother. Rape, incest, – I just have to be there,’ Trump said.
‘Ronald Reagan, he was for it. I was for it. But I will say this, you have to win elections. Otherwise, you are going to be back where you were and you can’t let that ever happen again. You got to win elections,’ Trump said.
Then he tore into Ron DeSantis, calling him ‘just another politician.’ DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida.
‘But, his poll numbers have gone down to a level that he is going to be out of the race very soon. He’s going to be out very soon. You know, I watched him last night, he is standing up with his shoes, his fancy shoes,’ Trump said, digressing with an insult.
Then he credited abortion as a potential reason for his rival’s political problems.
‘I hope it wasn’t the reason. I hope it is for other reasons. I could see a lot of other reasons why he shouldn’t be. But he is doing very, very poorly. It happened to coincide with that because a lot of people say a lot of, you know, if you talk five or six weeks, a lot of women don’t know if they are pregnant in five or six weeks,’ Trump said.
‘If you talk five or six weeks, a lot of women don’t know if they are pregnant in five or six weeks,’ Trump said, criticizing the six-week abortion ban signed into law in Florida by Ron DeSantis
Then Trump, who is also campaigning on an immigration crackdown and walked back prior remarks on ‘retribution’ and being a ‘dictator’ on ‘Day One,’ cast himself as a great unifier on the abortion issue.
‘I want to get something where people are happy. This has been tearing our country apart for 50 years. Nobody has been able to do anything. And again, you can only ask that question and you ask it brilliantly, and I understand exactly where you are coming from. I love where you are coming from. But we still have to win elections. And they have used this — you know, we have great Republicans and they are great on the issue, and you would love them on the issue. And a lot of them have just been decimated in the election, decimated — I mean, absolutely.
So, we are going to come up with something that people want and people like. I would love you to — first of all, you have to go with your heart, OK? You have to go with your heart first. Go with your heart, your mind, go with it. But you do also have to put in there a little bit. You have to win elections. But, if it weren’t for me with Roe v. Wade, you wouldn’t be talking about this subject — you wouldn’t be asking that question…’
He concluded with an upbeat prediction for the voter who wanted to protect life without compromise.
‘I think you are going to be happy in the end,’ he said.