Opinion: Are tables turning on the abortion issue since Dobbs?

photo by: Tribune Content Agency

Clarence Page

I’m sure I wasn’t the only TV viewer who stuck a finger in my ear and jiggled it after I heard former President Donald Trump criticize the six-week abortion ban brought about by his Republican opponent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Or as Trump famously rebranded him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” The Donald has hardly lost his knack for instantaneously rebranding his rivals with monikers that stick.

But the abortion issue has changed in the public’s view so much that even Trump’s own relentless air of certainty about everything seemed to wobble during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend.

This time, his answers began to spark something I have seldom seen Trump face in years: a backlash from conservatives. It came after he actually sounded like he was criticizing the six-week abortion ban signed into Florida law last spring by his closest Republican opponent in the polls, DeSantis. Trump said he would (gasp!) work with Democrats to pass some sort of abortion legislation.

“I think they’re all going to like me, I think both sides are going to like me,” Trump said, indicating he would work for a compromise position, which sounded shockingly new for the man who has made polarization his central organizing principle.

After he took a rhetorical shot at his rival DeSantis’ ban in Florida, Trump said he was “going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy. … Because 92% of the Democrats don’t want to see abortion after a certain period of time.”

In other words, he would reach for a happy, if uneasy, medium somewhere between an outright ban and “abortion on demand,” as the anti-abortion rights zealots call it.

That sounds like what we used to call a compromise back in the days when the parties were less far apart. Trump even sounded downright flexible on whether he would sign a 15-week federal abortion ban if it came across his desk.

“Well, people are starting to think of 15 weeks, that seems to be a number that people are talking about right now,” he responded, being asked again if he would sign it.

Of course, this sounded about as reliable to me as his promises during his first campaign to “replace Obamacare” with “something better and cheaper” but would offer more coverage.

I’m still waiting for that. But Trump’s attitude seemed to show a recognition of how the polls have shifted on the abortion issue since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returned the issue to the states.

At least two polls have found that more than half of voters think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A Wall Street Journal poll found that 53% of the voters surveyed oppose six-week abortion bans, and among those who support abortion being legal, 33% support some restrictions. With regards to Republican voters, the WSJ poll found that 68% support banning all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the patient.

Abortion has been on the ballot in seven states following that landmark court decision more than a year ago, and in each instance, in red states and blue states, the anti-abortion rights activists have lost.

Democratic strategists have been expressing a new worry, that Trump might use moderation to muddy the waters and confuse voters about which side they’re on.

Well, where would Democrats be without having something to worry about? I’m pleased that, if nothing else, maybe everybody will gain a new appreciation for the value of compromise and move away from the hardline extremes as we relearn something we seem to have lost in recent years: how to talk to each other.

— Clarence Page is a columnist for Tribune Content Agency.


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