It’s no secret that conservatives have been split about Donald Trump. His strong policies on border security and his defense of America’s working class have touched a responsive chord with millions of people. Increasingly, however, Reagan conservatives have serious questions about whether his governing vision is rooted in anything beyond whatever happens to pop into his mind at any given moment.
Yesterday’s disastrous exchange with left-wing hit journalist Chris Matthews on the sanctity of life only exacerbated those concerns. It has the potential to severely hurt Trump in Tuesday’s voting in Wisconsin and in the states to follow.
Matthews asked Trump if women who have abortions should be punished. Here’s the exchange:
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman?
TRUMP: Yes, there has to be some form.
Trump’s suggestion that if abortion were banned in the future, women who got abortions would have to be punished is evidence that he hasn’t spent any time seriously thinking about or discussing one of the most fundamental issues facing the country.
No serious leader in the pro-life movement advocates punishing women if abortion is banned.
The pro-life position has been absolutely clear: Every abortion negatively affects two people — it seriously wounds the woman while destroying the life of her innocent unborn child.
How could Donald Trump give such an ill-conceived answer? I have a hunch.
In the past, Trump has been, by his own admission, pro-abortion. Asked by Tim Russert in 1999 whether he would ban partial-birth abortions, Trump answered, “Well, look, I’m very pro-choice.” Pressed again as to whether he would ban partial-birth abortions, Trump replied, “No. I am pro-choice in every respect.”
Now that was a long time ago — 17 years. There have been many pro-abortion people who end up becoming pro-life over time. But they always have an explanation. Perhaps they saw their first child’s sonogram and were convicted by the knowledge that they are looking at a human being.
Maybe they have a religious conversion and came to fully appreciate the Old Testament verse, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Trump says he is pro-life now, but he has a weak narrative to explain it. One is left with the suspicion that he hasn’t had a genuine “road to Damascus” experience, but a “road to Cleveland” experience, where the Republican National Convention will be held.
Faced with a question he hasn’t thought through, it appears as though he was attempting to pander to pro-life conservatives. At one point during the interview, Trump said, “Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say, ‘yes, [women] should be punished.'” Mr. Trump is simply wrong.
Sadly, he legitimized one of worst stereotypes of the left when it comes to pro-life conservatives — that we want to put women in jail.
Every politician I have ever known manages to hurt themselves in some way. That is the nature of politics. In this case, Trump hurt himself, helped the pro-abortion left and damaged our cause of wanting an America where all of our children are welcomed into the world and protected under the law.
Before the evening was over, Trump’s campaign issued multiple clarifications, eventually aligning him with the position of the pro-life movement. But the damage has been done. You simply cannot ad-lib your way to the Oval Office.
Gary L. Bauer served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration for eight years, as Under Secretary of Education and as President Reagan’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor.