Donald Trump’s clumsy abortion pandering alienates both sides

Donald Trump’s Teflon™ coating may have worn off with his comments on punishing women for abortion yesterday, despite his campaign’s walking them back in two separate statements.

Here is the report MSNBC issued prior to airing the town hall, which immediately created a firestorm among pro-life and abortion rights advocates:

And here is the entire abortion segment of the town hall:

Trump obviously went into the interview with Chris Matthews having given little or no thought to the specifics of what actual laws should govern abortion.  And Matthews, who is well known to badger his interview subjects with specific questions to get them to take hard positions, pushed him.

“Should abortion be punished? This is not something you can dodge,” Matthews asked him.

Trump responded in a manner that is completely unforgivable to the pro-life movement:

“Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump responded.

 It is clear that Trump has gotten his views on what pro-lifers (or the Republican Party or conservative Republicans) think from people like Planned Parenthood, to which he has donated money.  He provided a caricature of the movement, one bearing no resemblance to what is desired.  As LifeNews puts it:

… the pro-life movement has historically opposed punishing women who have abortions — instead focusing on holding abortion practitioners criminally accountable for the unborn children they kill in abortions.

That pro-woman mentality is partly due to the understand that the abortion industry preys on women — selling them abortions by lying to them about the humanity of their unborn children and the destructive effects abortion will have. The pro-woman, pro-life attitude is also partly due to the fact that the pro-life movement is led by millions of women who had abortions and now deeply regret their decisions, thanks to a change of heart on abortion, or a religious conversion or a simply understanding that they took the life of their own child.

Charles Krauthammer, on Special Report, cited Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:

"Anybody who's been on this issue who knows the pro-life community, who knows what the arguments are and what people really believe, knows that is not true. That is not the position of anybody on the pro-life side. That is the position that the pro-choice people attribute -- this kind of hard-heartedness -- to the pro-life side. And that's apparently what Trump imbibed."

Krauthammer said that Trump's "lack of curiosity" is the problem, noting that the candidate also failed to learn more about the nuclear triad in an interval between debates.

Trump’s comments, naturally, were manna from heaven for the abortion rights politicians, which had pro-lifers cringing even more, as decades of work distancing themselves from the image of mean, anti-woman zealots propounded by the left seemed to dissolve in the wake of Trump’s blundering pander:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed Trump’s “radical agenda” but suggested it was one that congressional Republicans support. House Republicans this Congress have voted a dozen times to “attack” health care for women, she said.

“Donald Trump’s radical call for criminalizing women’s reproductive decisions is just the latest outrage in Republicans’ ongoing campaign to dismantle women’s rights to comprehensive health care,” she said.

Trump’s presidential rivals also pounced on his blunder. Hillary Clinton called his remarks appalling. “Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse,” she tweeted. “Horrific and telling.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders took a shot at the Republican Party as he blasted the “shameful” front-runner. “Your Republican front-runner, ladies and gentlemen,” he tweeted. “Shameful.”

Later in an interview with MSNBC, Sanders elaborated on what he meant: "I think it is — shameful is probably understating that position ... To punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension," he said according to a pre-released transcript.

John Kasich, who said he would “absolutely not” punish women for abortions, accurately predicted Trump would scale back his comments. “I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn’t say it or he was misquoted or whatever, but I don’t think so,” the Ohio governor told MSNBC. "I don’t think that’s an appropriate response, and it’s a difficult enough situation then to try to punish somebody.”

As Kasich predicted:

Donald Trump swiftly reversed his statement that women should be punished for abortions after his initial comments unleashed a storm of criticism from both anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights groups.

“This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination,” the Republican front-runner said in a written statement released by his campaign.

But as criticism from outside groups and his political opponents continued unabated, the Trump campaign issued another missive that aligned the candidate more clearly with the traditional anti-abortion platform. In that second statement he suggested that if abortions were illegal the doctor would be held responsible, not the woman — but said that he hasn’t changed his position.

“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” the statement read. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

I doubt that the pro-life movement will ever forgive Trump for making them look bad, revealing his lack of any serious thought on the issue.  How can they trust such a hollow panderer?  And his inability to parry Matthews may raise doubts in the minds of his supporters about his ability to handle the rigors of a campaign that promises to be vicious, fast-moving, with a very cunning opponent.

We have seen many instances in which Trump’s critics have thought, “Now he’s done it.  This will cause his support to collapse.”  And each time Teflon™ Don has rebounded.  Only time will tell if this instance is different.  But I suspect it is, for Trump has alienated a major GOP constituency with long memories.