Will women derail Trump?
It has not been a good few weeks for The Donald. On March 23, the Republican frontrunner retweeted a photo that compared an unflattering photo of rival Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, to a photo of his wife, Melania, from a British GQ photoshoot with the caption “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Donald Trump said the posting was in response to a Super PAC ad backing Cruz that made mention of Melania Trump.
Then on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested and charged in Florida with simple battery for allegedly yanking a female reporter back from asking questions of Trump at an event. The incident had largely played out in a squabble fought in the press until the Jupiter, Fla., Police Department released video seemingly corroborating the reporter’s claims and leading to charges. Despite the newly released evidence, Trump continues to stand by his senior staffer and assert his innocence, demonizing the press covering his campaign along the way.
His schoolyard fight with Cruz or the embarrassing actions of a staffer alone may be something that voters forget over the coming months, but his performance at a Wisconsin town hall Wednesday might be harder to wash over.
After being asked by an audience member about his stance on women’s reproductive rights, Trump reasserted that he was anti-abortion.
(A fairly difficult stance to accept considering he told Tim Russert that he was “pro-choice in every respect” during a 1999 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Trump does go on to say in that interview that he “hates the concept of abortion … but I still believe in choice.”)
But the conversation evolved under questioning by the town hall’s host, NBC’s Chris Matthews, who asserted that by being anti-abortion, Trump must want to ban abortions in America. Donald didn’t disagree. Matthews then pressed him on the fact that if abortions were to be banned, the practice would have to be made criminal under federal law. If that were to hypothetically happen, Matthews asked Trump whether he would punish a woman who still sought out a then-illegal abortion.
Trump replied, “The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.”
When pressed further by Matthews about what such punishment he imagined, Trump did something he hasn’t done on the entire campaign trail: clam up.
His artful dodging would have made Muhammad Ali proud. Instead of answering the host’s straight-forward questions, Trump played the classic dunce card: Ignore the question and ask the questioner questions instead.
For several excruciating minutes, the audience was treated to a diatribe on Matthews’ feelings on his Catholic faith and its church’s stance on abortion. When did Matthews announce his presidential candidacy, Donald?
The reaction to Trump’s statements were quick and fierce with obvious objections coming from Cruz and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But what was more surprising was the criticism from leading voices in the pro-life movement.
“Mr. Trump’s comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. “Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.”
Trump didn’t waste a lot of time backing away from the statements he made in the televised town hall, with his campaign issuing a statement clarifying that, under the theoretical scenario, he would impose punishments on doctors defying the abortion ban and not the women seeking the services.
He blamed his controversial statements on “convoluted questions” by Matthews, although the video and transcript seem to indicate that he had no problem following along.
But the gaffe raises bigger questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s positions. What does he know about the nuances of the arguments made by the anti-abortion community, which has been vocal of its support of mothers for years. Is Trump simply appropriating the anti-abortion mantle in order to win more voters from more conservative voters? This incident seems to indicate just that. Reproductive rights have been a hot-button topic in American politics pretty much since the moment the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade. And while this campaign has been largely focused on the economy and the threat of foreign terrorism, Trump may have unintentionally just inserted the GOP’s “War on Women” as a major talking point for Democrats.
Will it ultimately be a lynchpin for a winning Clinton or Sanders campaign? We’ll have to wait and see.