Former President Donald Trump shakes hands with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins before speaking at the Pray Vote Stand Summit, Friday in Washington.Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.In dueling presidential campaign speeches to Evangelical leaders Friday, former President Donald Trump sounded like the moderate Republican in the room, at least when it came to abortion.
At the Family Research Council’s Pray Vote Stand conference in DC, the former president ticked off a long list of his pro-life accomplishments from his time in the White House, most notably nominating three conservative Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v Wade last year. And he invoked the false trope that Democrats support “post-birth abortion,” claiming that “They’ll kill babies in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth month, and they’ll even kill babies in some cases after birth. They are the radicals.”
But he also warned the fervently pro-life crowd that Republican extremism on abortion was losing them elections. “Like President Ronald Reagan before me, I support the three exceptions: for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. And again, that’s a decision that you’re going to have to make for yourself, and you have to go by your heart and what you feel,” he said. “But I do, and I will say politically, it’s very tough. It’s a very tough decision for some people. But very, very hard on elections—very, very hard…We had midterms and this was an issue.”
He went on to gently criticize Republican politicians for their extreme anti-abortion rhetoric. “They just don’t know how to talk about this issue,” Trump said. “It’s a complex issue…And if they don’t speak about it correctly, they’re not going to win.…I watch some of these politicians speaking and it’s so bad. They don’t understand what it is that they’re talking about, and they lost a lot of elections, and we can’t let that happen.”
“Now we can win elections on this issue,” Trump continued. “But it’s very delicate, and explaining it properly is extremely important.”
Perhaps some of Trump’s primary rivals have taken that message to heart. Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke before Trump at the event, didn’t even mention the usually red meat subject, even though in April, he signed into law a six-week state abortion ban that should have been an applause line. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy also neglected to mention the topic, despite being on record as supporting six-week state bans that would treat abortion like “murder.”
Earlier in the day, however, former VP Mike Pence showed no such reservations. In his speech to a crowd that should be his most solid base, Pence called for a national 15-week abortion ban that would severely restrict the procedure in many blue states where it is currently legal. “I think the fate of our nation is tied up in the cause of life,” he said. “Save the babies and we’ll save America.”