One of the most interesting and underreported phenomena of this general election has been the lack of influence that Republican elites who oppose or at least disdain Donald Trump exercise among actual Republican voters. Despite all of the nasty attacks on the nominee by #NeverTrump pundits, all of the elected officials who are obviously taking a walk, all of the donors who are suddenly concentrating on down-ballot Republican candidates, and all of the efforts of the Clinton campaign to put out a welcome mat for defectors, there’s not much evidence Trump is losing many “base” voters.
One important reason is that the opinion-leaders closest to “the base,” especially among the Christian conservatives who might be expected to look askance at this amoral philistine, are working overtime on Trump’s behalf. Evangelical clergy and propagandists have most obviously entered the mogul’s camp, as evidenced by the recent Values Voter Summit. And a group that overlaps with the Christian right and provides a lot of the emotional energy for the conservative cause, the anti-abortion movement, is going to the mats for a nominee whose conversion to their point of view is both recent and suspect.
As Emily Crockett explains at Vox, Trump has compensated for his lack of a history with the right-to-lifers, and his unwillingness to talk much about their cause in front of swing voters, with a blunt and transactional bid for their support based on very specific policy promises and associating with their leaders.
His smartest gambit in securing pro-lifers was his commitment to choose a Supreme Court nominee to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat from a list pre-vetted by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. Every name is a certain or near-certain vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. Given the long, long history of Republican presidents dating all the way back to Richard Nixon betraying the cause with pro-choice SCOTUS appointments, this is arguably more convincing than all of that vague pro-life rhetoric Trump eschews.
And showing that he’s learned something since he stupidly called for the punishment of women who have abortions — a major strategic no-no among abortion opponents — Trump has also promised to rubber-stamp the rest of the movement’s legislative agenda, from a permanent ban on abortion funding to the latest federal and state attempts to chip away at abortion rights via pre-viability bans.
But it’s Trump’s winning over of the more extreme anti-abortion leaders that has sealed the deal. His choice of longtime anti-abortion champion Mike Pence as a running mate was a very good start. But last week’s announcement that he convinced Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, to put together a “pro-life coalition” for him was even bigger. The list, originally formed in the 1990s as an anti-abortion counter to Emily’s List, has become a sort of political shock unit for the overall pro-life movement: more radical and more directly engaged in electoral politics.
The impression that nobody’s getting to Trump’s right on abortion policy has been reinforced by the plaudits he has won from the movement’s violent fringe: The head of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, who has defended the murder of abortion providers, endorsed Trump after meeting with the mogul a while back.
#NeverTrumpers have attacked the ready and even eager support of Trump by right-to-life leaders as naïve if not actively a betrayal. Here’s how RedState’s Leon Wolf put it: “[P]rofessional pro-lifers are embarrassing themselves right now by pretending that Trump of all people is going to be different from the back stabbing Republicans who came before him.”
Perhaps the movement’s expectations of Republican pols are low to begin with. Or perhaps, like a lot of other allegedly religious conservatives, they are more attracted to Trump’s golden calf of worldly success than they are willing to admit (there’s a reason the traditional Christian baptismal vows warn against “the glamour of evil”).
But it’s fair to say that Trump has effectively protected this particular flank in his effort to consolidate GOP support. If he loses, it won’t be because Christian conservatives listened to Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore’s accusation that they were trading their birthright for a mess of heathenish pottage.