Trump Steps Up Anti-Abortion Stance, Taps Dannenfelser

Trump Steps Up Anti-Abortion Stance, Taps Dannenfelser
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With less than two months until Election Day, Donald Trump is ramping up his outreach to a reliable Republican constituency: anti-abortion advocates.

Trump plans to name a Pro-Life Coalition on Friday, RealClearPolitics has learned, with Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser as its national chairwoman. The GOP nominee will also adopt a new pledge to protect the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funding for most abortions — a law Democrat Hillary Clinton opposes.

“Not only has Mr. Trump doubled down on his three existing commitments to the pro-life movement, he has gone a step further in pledging to protect the Hyde Amendment and the conscience rights of millions of pro-life taxpayers,” a statement from Dannenfelser will read. “For a candidate to make additional commitments during a general election is almost unheard of.”

Indeed, it is almost unheard of for a Republican nominee to return to an issue like abortion during the final weeks of a presidential campaign because the strategic focus traditionally turns to persuading undecided voters, for whom abortion is not a driving issue.

But with two historically unpopular candidates facing off this year, turning out core supporters will be a more essential task.

“The danger is not that evangelicals will turn out and vote for Clinton,” Pastor Robert Jeffress said during a recent interview on Fox News. “The danger is they won’t turn out and vote at all.”

In a letter to anti-abortion leaders asking them to join his coalition, Trump writes, “As we head into the final stretch of the campaign, the help of leaders like you is essential to ensure that pro-life voters know where I stand, and also know where my opponent, Hillary Clinton, stands.

“Your help is crucial to make this contrast clear in the minds of pro-life voters,” Trump adds, “especially those in battleground states.”

The group’s co-chairs will be announced later this month.

Although the RealClearPolitics polling average now shows Trump within two percentage points of Clinton nationally, he continues to face an enthusiasm deficit among some core Republican voters, including a share of evangelicals. A Pew Research Center survey published last month showed him leading Clinton among this group nationally by 46 points, 63 percent to 17 percent — but another 12 percent of self-identified white evangelical voters preferred third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

During the 2012 race, exit polls showed Republican Mitt Romney winning 79 percent of white evangelicals, with 20 percent favoring President Obama.

Trump emphasized the role that this demographic will play when he spoke last month to a gathering of evangelical pastors in Orlando. "The way we're going to win is, you have to get your congregations and you have to get parishioners, you have to get all of your people to go out and vote," he said.

But Trump has stumbled over his position on abortion, in particular, at multiple junctures throughout the campaign.

And in 1999, Trump described himself as “very pro-choice.”

“I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject,” he said then on “Meet the Press.” “But you still — I just believe in choice.”

His position changed, however, and since Trump launched his presidential he has been “pro-life with exceptions.”

But he hit a snag in the spring after suggesting that a woman should be punished for having an abortion, and then said, “The laws are set ... and that’s the way they’re going to remain.” Both comments were rebuked by pro-life groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List, which worried Trump had “disqualified himself as the GOP nominee.” He subsequently walked back his remarks. (The Susan B. Anthony List advocates for the election of anti-abortion candidates.)

Still, Trump has not exactly carried out a charm offensive in targeting the anti-abortion community. Breaking with recent GOP tradition, he did not so much as nod to pro-life values during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. 

His Pro-Life Coalition and collaboration with Dannenfelser will thus mark a significant reset for Trump — if at a late stage in the campaign.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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