The only thing a candidate can ever offer is words. He can’t act on what he will do because he’s speaking about the future, not the present.
Yet Donald Trump has actually raised the bar for what pro-lifers can expect from Republican candidates, despite his troubling personal history on the issue.
This sounds counter-intuitive: even if pro-lifers support Trump, shouldn’t they feel they’re taking a step backwards? Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry urged this in The Week, saying “If pro-lifers vote for Trump, the Republican Party will never again give them what they want.”
But Gobry and others are ignoring Trump’s positions — and those positions actually improve the pro-life movement’s bargaining position in the Republican Party.
Take the ever-important Supreme Court. Past Republican nominees have actually refused to say they would appoint pro-life justices. Unlike Democrats, the GOP establishment has considered “litmus tests” taboo.
Trump has blasted through this judicial glass ceiling. He has not only specified his justices will be pro-life; he has named a list of them from whom he will pick. He even told Hugh Hewitt he would be fine with Republican senators holding up or filibustering his nominee if he veers from the list — because he won’t.
And Trump’s list is stellar. It includes people like Judge William Pryor who, during his Senate testimony to become an appeals court judge, explicitly and courageously said he opposes Roe v. Wade (instead of what most nominees say, which is usually something vague about following the law).
So if pro-lifers support Trump, the next Republican candidate will have less wiggle room on who he promises for the Supreme Court. He will have to meet Trump’s new standard of promising pro-life justices and maybe naming them in advance.
Trump has also hired and given authority to very pro-life people — the one thing a candidate can do besides making promises. Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and little-known staffers such as David Bossie and John Mashburn are staunch pro-lifers. Trump let the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation pick his Supreme Court nominees. Trump will hire thousands in the federal government if he wins, and many of them are likely to be solid pro-lifers.
The tough-as-nails Marjorie Dannenfelser points this out in her recent column. Dannenfelser never settles for empty Republican promises. Her Susan B. Anthony List even helped defeat Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers in her GOP primary for being insufficiently pro-life on late term abortions.
Following Dannenfelser and Conway, Trump has written that he will not only nominate pro-life justices but will also defend the ban on federal tax funding of abortion, defund Planned Parenthood until it ceases doing abortions, and sign a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
Oh, and under Trump, this year’s Republican Party platform is even more pro-life than before.
The anti-Trump movement’s response to this is that pro-life voters can’t trust him. But we are always left with a question of trust — and could pro-lifers trust George H.W. Bush, who gave us David Souter on the Supreme Court?
In reality, pro-lifers aren’t “trusting” Trump; they are relying on his actual pro-life hires, which have been great, and the assurances they have gotten out of Trump, which are better than those from any previous nominee. Pro-lifers would only lose ground if they supported a candidate who refused to sign on to their agenda.
And the pro-life movement is relying on its ability to hold candidates accountable. After Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 appointed justices that upheld Roe, pro-lifers regrouped. All three justices appointed by Republicans since then have voted consistently pro-life, and pro-lifers actually forced George W. Bush to withdraw an unproven nominee. Now, the Republican nominee has released a list in advance. This is called progress — and influence.
So whether Trump wins or loses, the pro-life movement won’t hurt its position over the Republican Party by supporting him. On the contrary, the movement has convinced Trump to accede to more of their demands than ever before. Future Republican candidates will have much to explain if they are going to be less pro-life than Donald Trump.
Matt Bowman is an attorney who practices pro-life and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.