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In 1867, Otto von Bismarck pithily described politics as “the art of the possible.” The extent to which that truth is denied is the extent to which the denier courts likely and very embarrassing losses — losses that can foster a new status quo that is even worse than the one that came before.
On abortion and transgenderism, American conservatives are in danger of losing some eminently winnable ground.
During interviews recently with Kristen Welker of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Megyn Kelly of “The Megyn Kelly Show,” former President Donald Trump made statements that ignited criticism from certain parts of the anti-abortion right.
On abortion bans, Trump — surprising nobody who’s even casually familiar with his meandering, stream-of-consciousness rhetorical style — spoke inartfully but not necessarily incorrectly if you accept that he’s a politician in a sharply divided country seeking re-election to the presidency, not a priest or moral theologian dispensing absolute truths.
On transgenderism, much of the criticism aimed at Trump is overblown at best. At worst, it borders on a dishonest interpretation of his response to one of Megyn Kelly’s questions.
Let’s begin with abortion. Welker asked Trump whether he’d sign a federal 15-week abortion ban. Trump said that he would negotiate a compromise that everyone could live with. When Welker asked whether he supports Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s six-week abortion ban, Trump said, “I think what he did was a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
Later on, Trump explained that most Americans are not radicals on the abortion issue and expressed his support for exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. “Other than certain parts of the country,” Trump observed, “you’re not going to win on this issue” without some exceptions. “But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.”
Pro-life activists defended Florida’s robust ban and blasted Trump, going so far as to say that he should not be the GOP’s nominee.
But, like it or not, Trump was right to speak of compromise.
DeSantis won his 2022 re-election campaign by a crushing 19 points, the largest margin of victory in 40 years, and the Republicans took the Florida legislature. Were Trump’s re-election to be similarly commanding, a Florida-esque ban might be possible.
But everyone knows that if Trump can somehow overcome the left’s ongoing efforts to “fortify” the 2024 election, his victory will likely be a nail-biter, not a blowout. That limits what is possible.
Being too strident on abortion risks a loss by alienating too many people who are, for now, uncomfortable with the maximalist pro-life position. And without the people’s support, “nothing can succeed,” as Abraham Lincoln astutely observed. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, about half of Americans support a 15-week ban and a two-thirds supermajority supports a 24-week ban.
To be clear, I am no squish on this issue. But despite the pro-life movement’s deepest hopes, recent failures in Kansas and Michigan show we are in for yet another multi-generational effort — this time to undo nearly 50 years of pro-abortion propaganda and ensure that every baby is “welcomed in life and protected in law.”
On transgenderism, Kelly asked Trump whether minors should be “provided with access to puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones,” and he said that he was “so against it” because many of them will grow up and ask, “Who did this to me? Why did you do this to me?” He noted that he often says at his rallies that “we will stop the mutilation of children.”
Then, Kelly asked, “Can a man become a woman?” Trump hesitated and chuckled, saying, “In my opinion, you have a man, you have a woman; I think part of it is birth. Can the man give birth? No.”
Not the strongest answer — but also a far cry from being “[un]sure if a man can become a woman,” as at least one DeSantis supporter has alleged.
Given that public opinion is favorable to sex realists and has grown even more favorable to them over the years — a 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that “60% say a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, up from 56% in 2021 and 54% in 2017” — it would behoove Trump to be clearer and stronger on the question. Even Gavin Newsom seems to get it!
But to say or imply that Trump is, by dint of that lukewarm answer, indistinguishable from the pro-transgender radicals who trulybelieve, full stop, that “trans women” are women, is downright dishonest.
In trying to win in 2024, the American right has plenty of challenges; running headlong against public opinion or pretending that Trump is some kind of radical gender nihilist will only make that goal harder, if not impossible, to achieve.Deion A. Kathawa is an attorney who hails from America’s heartland. He holds a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is a 2021 alumnus of the Claremont Institute’s John Marshall Fellowship. Subscribe to his “Sed Kontra” newsletter.
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