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Trump’s Abortion Approach is Prudent

Social liberalism completed its march toward the unfathomable through increments. There is no reason conservatives can’t win back terrain with the same playbook.


Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels got laughed out of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries for proposing a “truce” on social issues.

More than a dozen years later, Daniels’s better dead than red (at least when it comes to ink) pitch looks even more out of step with a GOP that is today less focused on the national debt or size of the federal government than the culture war. Its ascendant intellectuals and new voters are more socially than economically conservative, perhaps for the first time since Richard Nixon was in office.


Except former President Donald Trump did bring about a truce of sorts on social issues, at least within his own coalition if not the country as a whole. His strongest supporters have ranged from transgendered tax-cutters to integralists. 

Whatever Trump’s libertine personal values, his arrival on the scene unleashed committed culture warriors who make the Religious Right of the 1990s look like country-club Republicans by comparison.

It’s therefore fitting that Trump has delivered more for the pro-life cause than Republicans with clearer anti-abortion bona fides while also being the first GOP nominee to defy most pro-life activists since Gerald Ford in 1976, before the parties sorted on abortion.

That doesn’t make it any less true that there has been a realignment of sorts on the right in which social conservatives are vying to be a bigger part of the furniture than one third of a three-legged stool.

These conservatives cannot help but notice that some of their fellow Republicans would stick out of principle to many positions that poll as badly as a ban on first-trimester abortions, ranging from opposing minimum-wage increases to cutting entitlement programs to fighting foreign wars after the public has turned against them, while heading for the tall grass on the life issue at the first opportunity.


Republicans campaigned for decades on overturning Roe v. Wade. They now seem to wish those promises had gone the way of repealing and replacing Obamacare. 

At the same time, social conservatives need more than political courage to be successful (though courage certainly helps). They have to think of how to effectively pursue their policy objectives and build political coalitions that can sustain their wins.

From the conservative perspective, it often seems as if social liberals are able to make the impossible inevitable overnight. It is true that social liberalism occupies the commanding heights of opinion-shaping, from the news media to Hollywood to academia to now even the corporate boardroom and certainly HR departments. 

But social liberals often proceed gradually, introducing concepts that most people agree on in the march toward making the impossible inevitable. Consider the advances of gay rights in the 1990s: Social liberals appealed to inclusion in the family, the military, the Boy Scouts, in basic middle-class values. If they had proceeded all the way to Dylan Mulvaney’s forebears in 1996, Bill Clinton would have dropped them more quickly than Bud Light did—just as he did on the issue of gay marriage that very year.

If you go back four years before that, when Clinton was first elected, gay marriage was not a public policy issue at all outside the margins. At the same time, Republicans were being counseled to get over their hang-ups about abortion, which Clinton pledged to keep “safe, legal, and rare.”

“November 1992 marks the end of the 20-year abortion wars,” the more-or-less conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time. “The principle has been settled, though some details remain. Never again will abortion be criminalized, though the question remains as to how far society may go to discourage abortion by creating such inconveniences as parental notification and 24-hour waiting periods.”

Krauthammer was referring to Casey v. Planned Parenthood, a Supreme Court case that year that was a major disappointment to conservatives and pro-lifers. Justices mainly appointed by pro-life Republican presidents failed to overturn Roe. But they did open the door to additional abortion restrictions, and for many years afterward there were incremental pro-life gains.

Thirty years later, the country had both gay marriage and a reversal of Roe. It can be difficult to predict the future, even as confident commentators proclaim we are already living in it.

More important to pro-lifers than any election result this year is ensuring that Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization is not the pyrrhic victory that Casey ultimately was for our political opponents.

That’s going to require prudence as well as principle and courage.