Donald Trump is on the precipice of achieving the most lasting and impactful part of his presidential legacy, as the justices he put on the Supreme Court prepare to help overturn Roe v. Wade and cement the former president’s status as a hero to social conservatives. But for a man who rarely opens his mouth without talking about his own (real or alleged) achievements, Trump has been near-silent on abortion since it became clear Roe was going under.
Instead, Trump has been privately fretting about what the impending collapse of abortion rights will do for his own political prospects, telling those close to him that the issue could hurt him with “suburban women” should he try to retake the White House in 2024. “Suburban women have been a recurring concern for [former] President Trump, including during the 2020 campaign, when his smarter advisers were sounding the alarm to him about how he was losing suburbs. He is … worried women in the suburbs could punish him for this one day, [too],” said a person familiar with the matter.
In the weeks since a draft opinion to overturn Roe was revealed, Trump has barely talked about the issue during interviews, at political rallies, and in his social media posts. According to two sources familiar with the matter, this is indeed an intentional and calculated silence. In recent days, Trump has told some of his allies and counselors that “suburban women” and other key voting groups don’t like hearing about the issue, as they are simply more pro-choice than the mainstream of the Republican Party and conservative movement. He has also told several associates that if he went too hard now on the topic of overturning Roe, it would give his enemies the chance to “use it against” him — the strong implication being, according to the two sources, that if Trump ultimately runs for the White House again in 2024, it could be more a political liability than an asset.
And, naturally, Trump has recently solicited printouts of the latest polling on the subject, according to the two people familiar with the situation.
“‘Suburban women — some who voted for me — they don’t like it when we talk about it. That’s a problem sometimes [and that is] important to remember,'” Trump said at one small gathering earlier this month, the second source relayed.
There are, however, some conservative die-hards in Trump’s orbit who are personally trying to nudge him toward embracing — or at least firmly acknowledging — the anticipated victory, which would inevitably set the pro-choice movement back decades. “I encouraged him to go bigger on the life issue [following the leaked draft opinion],” said a third person, who said they’d spoken to Trump about this in the past two weeks. “He said [something like], ‘maybe,’ which sounded more like a ‘not now.’”
Trump has remained conspicuously reserved since Politico reported earlier this month that five conservative justices had agreed to an opinion overturning Roe. On Truth Social — his apparent social media home since being kicked off other major platforms after the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., last year — Trump has been busy “truthing” about 2020-election-conspiracy theories, the PGA tour, the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, the Durham probe, Elon Musk’s “probably illegal purchase of a crummy phony account loaded company,” and Tuesday’s Republican primaries. But since the draft opinion leaked, not once in the roughly 120 posts Trump has made on Truth Social have his thumbs tapped out a post referencing abortion, according to a Rolling Stone review of his account.
In an appearance in Pennsylvania to campaign for his preferred Republican Senate candidate in that state, Dr. Oz, Trump alluded to abortion only vaguely, including a line about how Republicans “will protect innocent life” and that the “three justices” he nominated to the Supreme Court are “making a very big decision now.”
Whether the former president talks about it or not, Roe’s impending fall, and the subsequent wave of state-level anti-abortion laws it will unleash on millions of women, is largely his doing. Of the five justices who’ve reportedly privately agreed to the draft opinion, three are Trump appointees: Justices Brett Kavanuagh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch. Republicans rushed Barrett’s confirmation through in the final weeks before the 2020 election, capitalizing on the death of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But it is Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son and a leading MAGA envoy, who has been more vocal on the subject of abortion in the same time period, posting memes and support for the draft decision on his Truth Social, Rumble, and Twitter accounts.
Trump’s private admission that abortion politics could now potentially blow up in his face — in the wake of his and the GOP likely getting exactly what they wanted — echoes the hope among various Democratic lawmakers and strategists who believe if Roe falls or is gutted, it could energize critical voting blocs in their favor. However, many Democratic operatives working on 2022 midterm races are pessimistic that a potential coming backlash would help them staunch the widely predicted electoral bloodbath this year.
During the 2016 presidential race against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, then-future President Trump was emphatic in his promise that he’d appoint pro-life justices and that during his administration, Roe would be overturned “automatically, in my opinion.” Not too many years before his rise to power, Trump openly self-ID’d as “very pro-choice” and, of course, as a culturally liberal New York celeb.
Depending on which Trump associates you ask, the twice-impeached former president either had a volte-face on the issue in his older years or he cynically campaigned and governed as a staunchly anti-abortion politician in an effective bit of transactional politics with highly motivated social-conservative voters. Either way, the results were very much the same.
Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor and a top informal faith adviser to Trump over the years, tells Rolling Stone about a moment during Trump’s presidency when the then-leader of the free world made a few comments that mirror his political calculus today.
“It was a conversation toward the end of his presidency; we were at the White House … right after the [2020 Republican] convention, maybe the day after his speech,” Jeffress recounted. “What I remember about our conversation is that, yes, President Trump said he was certainly very pro-life … which he said was a result of a conversation he had with a couple he was friends with and they decided to keep [their] baby instead of aborting the baby; and he said that that affected him deeply.”
However, the pastor added, Trump also mentioned that “he understood there are a lot of Americans who say they have nuanced opinions on the subject. He said the American people were conflicted on the issue, and that polls indicated there are Americans who object to abortion on demand but don’t agree on an outright ban; that the majority of Americans are somewhere in between … ‘It’s a tough issue,’ I believe, were his exact words … I think he was correct in his analysis. He wasn’t ambivalent on his personal conviction, but he understood that many Americans are conflicted on this topic, and polls indicate that he’s correct on that assessment.”