No One Should Be Confused About Where Trump Stands on Abortion

Melissa Gira Grant / New Republic
No One Should Be Confused About Where Trump Stands on Abortion Donald Trump. (photo: MSNBC)

Trump’s remarks to a Christian-right audience on Monday may contradict the reigning political narrative. But they weren’t surprising.

Trump is supposedly trying not to seem “extreme” on abortion. So when news broke last week that he would be speaking to a group that demands abortion be “eradicated entirely,” this somewhat complicated the narrative: Why would Trump, who is trying to stick to a simple “leave it to the states” script, seek the support of a group that considers abortion “child sacrifice”? And, conversely, why would the Danbury Institute—a new group with ties to the more conservative factions of the Southern Baptist Convention—accept the leadership of a man just convicted of 34 felony crimes in connection with covering up sex with a porn performer? In truth, none of this is very surprising.

Trump’s prerecorded video, played toward the close of an hours-long “luncheon” organized by the Danbury Institute, defied what has become the narrative on Trump and abortion: that Trump must maintain careful distance from committing to any particular stance on abortion, lest he risk losing Republican voters who feel that anti-abortion laws have gone too far since the end of Roe. His remarks Monday were very brief, and included a pledge to “defend life.” That may seem vague, except if you recall that he’s saying it to a group that defines “defending life” as “abolishing abortion.”

Evoking notions of spiritual warfare, the Danbury Institute in its mission statement calls on supporters to act as “honorable patriots” and “heavenly citizens.” The group lists numerous opponents, from transgender women to socialism. It laments that “63 million babies have died on our nation’s altar to ‘women’s rights.’” The group was launched earlier this year but draws leadership from Christian-right stalwarts like Richard Land and has garnered the support of the James Dobson Family Institute. Its event featuring Trump was held alongside the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis and was co-sponsored by some more familiar names: Liberty University, the Family Research Council, Students for Life America, and the Promise Keepers (seemingly back from the 1990s). Guests were told the event would feature “opportunities” to advance their project of asserting “Judeo-Christian values” that they claim the United States was built on. There was no subtlety at the event: Speakers likened abortion to the Holocaust, said it must be brought to an end, and said that the people in the room will end it.

Ahead of the event, multiple outlets suggested there was some tension here with Trump’s allegedly more moderate stance. “Trump’s position stands in stark contrast from the group hosting Monday’s event,” USA Today reported. Politico went further, saying that Trump and the Danbury Institute held contradictory stances on abortion, reporting last week, “Donald Trump is courting a Christian advocacy organization that wants to ban all abortions and calls the procedure ‘child sacrifice,’ a stringent position that contradicts his own less restrictive approach and stated intention to let states decide the issue.” Many noted Trump’s seeming resistance to taking a stand on abortion at all. “For over a year until he announced his position this spring, Trump had backed away from endorsing any specific national limit on abortion,” the AP reported ahead of Trump’s remarks. Trump’s campaign helped cement the narrative by repeating on Monday the claim that Trump wants to leave abortion up to the states. It’s a statement well undermined by the fact that there is a plan for Trump, authored by former Trump administration officials: Project 2025, which makes the highly contested argument that a national abortion ban is already on the books and all Trump needs to do is enforce it.

Trump’s remarks were provided to some news organizations before the luncheon attendees saw the video he’d recorded. “We can’t afford to have anyone sit on the sidelines—now is the time for us all to pull together and stand up for our values and our freedoms,” the provided remarks read. “We have to defend religious liberty, free speech, innocent life, and the heritage and traditions that built America into the greatest nation in the history of the world.” In the video, Trump seemingly riffed—“You just can’t vote Democrat, they’re against religion, they’re against your religion in particular”—before getting back on script. “I know that each of you is protecting those values every day—and I hope we’ll be defending them side by side for the next four years.” It’s a mess, but it sounds the right notes: religious liberty and innocent life, the two pillars of the Danbury Institute’s event and core concerns of the Christian right.

Maybe you think that, alone, wouldn’t be enough to recommend Trump to the kind of Christian that imagines this nation can only be restored to its divine origins once these particular Christians assume leadership over all. Project 2025, for example—the Heritage Foundation–led effort to guide Trump—puts “Restore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children” at the top of its list of concerns.

But the Christian right has been inclined to offer Trump broad latitude so long as it’s in service to its goals. “Many Americans, including large swaths of White Christian nationalists, seem to accept that the figure who is asked to protect the purity of the national family may overstep the bounds of purity himself to do so,” the professor of religious studies and former Christian nationalist Bradley Onishi writes in his 2023 book tracing and critiquing that movement. “This transgression is viewed not as an unforgivable sin but as a sign of virility and power.” In Trump, they have found their latest perfectly impure leader. “Like a good strongman, he is seen as the head and protector of the American family,” Onishi writes. “His transgressions are not only forgivable; they are signs that he is up for the job.” Even “family values” Christians may follow such a leader—not because they have no other choice, but because he fits the part.

Trump, in his way, nodded to this relationship in the rambling prophecy at the end of his remarks. He promised his audience that their power would return, with him: “These are gonna be your years, because you’re gonna make a comeback like just about no other group … and I’ll be with you, side by side.”

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