How Trump became the pro-life leader Republicans always needed
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President Trump has transformed the Republican Party’s long-standing opposition to abortion from a moral imperative into a political winner.  

As a result, and to the consternation of many in the pro-life movement, President Trump, unlike his Republican predecessors, is actually delivering on the pro-life agenda.

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Pro-life leaders still on the fence about Trump need to recognize that these victories are only possible because Trump has disentangled pro-life policies from pro-life morality, set aside their lingering reservations about the president, and offer him their full political support so long as he stays true to the cause for life.

 

At first blush, Trump is a particularly implausible pro-life leader.  Prior to running for office, he had no footprint on the issue despite having spent his life in a city in which 37 percent of all viable pregnancies were terminated by abortion in a recent count.  To many in the pro-life movement, he appeared the antithesis of a conservative that would stay firm in the face of pressure to preserve the American status quo of abortion on demand.

But, by honing in on the pro-life movement’s political potential rather than moral necessity, Trump put a stop to the self-defeating Republican receipt of personal moral certainty and political moderation.

For years, Republicans have convincingly espoused their commitment on the issue only to waver when it came time to call a vote. This tyranny of moderation culminated in the Republican self-sabotage of the 20-week abortion ban on the eve of the March for Life last year.

Lost on the Republican Party establishment, but not on President Trump, is the political opportunity embedded in the pro-life cause.

While Americans are divided on the issue of abortion, a sizable majority of Americans support restrictions, such as a 20-week ban.  Accordingly, Americans are not afraid of the clarity Trump demonstrated in the third presidential debate as he grippingly described Secretary Clinton’s extreme position supporting abortion up until the moment of birth.  

Paradoxically, Trump’s political breakthrough on the life-issue was made possible because of, not despite, his reputation as a womanizer.  His personal life, rather than discrediting him, gave him the ability to declare that abortion is the taking of a human life without appearing to moralize.

Had a movement conservative so grippingly described a late-term abortion in a presidential debate, they would have been instantly labeled as self-righteous theocrats. President Trump’s personal history makes him impervious to such a charge.

Trump’s lack of bona fides on the life issue also provides a serious political constraint on his implementation of the pro-life agenda. He cannot waver on the life issue and keep his winning political coalition together.  

Trump simply does not have the depth of personal credibility on the issue to permit a misstep.  And, having soft-pedaled his position on marriage, he does not have a range of other social issues on which to fall back.

By sending Vice President Pence to the March for Life last month and nominating a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, Trump is signaling that he understands these constraints as well the value of being the pro-life movement’s de facto leader.  

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise when he finally cuts off the flow of federal funds to the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, over the objection of some self-professed pro-life Republicans.

Moreover, should the opportunity arise, he will even appoint a second Supreme Court justice that will bring Roe v. Wade in to play and re-empower the American people to protect the unborn in their respective states.

As Trump delivers on the pro-life agenda, Democrats will find it all but impossible to compromise. During President Obama’s two terms in office, the Democratic Party unwisely dug its heels in on this issue.

In 2012, the Democratic platform committee removed “rare” from Bill’s Clinton’s legal, safe and rare platform, and just last year Secretary Clinton’s campaign felt the need to awkwardly extract Senator Kaine’s support for taxpayer funded abortion.  

The extreme contours of the Democratic Party’s position will again be on display this spring as Republicans pass the popular 20-week abortion ban in the House of Representatives.  

With 64 percent of the American electorate supporting this restriction on late-term abortions, Senate Leader McConnell would do the pro-life movement an invaluable service by forcing Democrats to actually oppose this legislation on the floor of the Senate even if he doesn’t force a vote.

Republicans should understand that not holding the abortion debate on our terms does not mean avoiding it. It only ensures that we will hold the debate on the Democrats' terms.

A combination of Democratic intransigence and extremism provides Trump the perfect opportunity to translate the Republican Party’s longstanding commitment to protect the unborn into reality.  If successful, Trump will return the Republican Party to its founding principle that we are all created equal and begin to heal the deep wound that abortion has left on the American experiment.

Sean Fieler is chairman of the American Principles Project, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group, and president of a New York-based hedge fund. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey with his wife and five children.


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