Will women de­rail Trump?

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

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.

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