Opinion: Trump’s move to the center is surprisingly transparent

Steve Helber/AP/File

He has proven himself to be neither an honest nor trustworthy man, so we must assume that what Trump says to get elected gives us very little information about what he will actually do in office, Filipovic writes.

Editor’s note: Jill Filipovic is a New York-based journalist and author of the book “Okay, Boomer, let’s talk: how my generation got left behind.” Follow her on TwitterThe opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his own. More opinion on CNN.


Former President Donald Trump wants to take back the White House, and that means softening the Republican Party’s stated stance on abortion rights. But neither he nor the Republican Party has any intention of following through on his plan. Trump’s obvious centrist stance was on display Monday when the Republican National Committee’s platform committee approved a draft that included language seemingly moderating the GOP’s stance on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Courtesy of Jill Filipovic

Jill Filipovic.

Trump seems to realize that the issue of abortion and other reproductive rights remains his and his party’s weakest, thanks only to his incredible overreach. Trump appointed three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, all of whom helped overturn Roe v. Wade and end the national right to abortion in the United States. That decision has proven disastrous on many levels: especially for women in Republican-governed states, who continue to suffer the consequences.

A large majority of Americans support abortion rights, and many voters are angry and motivated.

This is a big problem for Republicans, though much of the anti-abortion movement remains in denial and has been pushing for more bans and tougher restrictions. The result is that the United States now finds itself with abortions banned in more than a dozen states, and many of these states have fought court battles to uphold strict laws or enact new ones; two of them were even decided (or actually postponed) by the Supreme Court this year. The GOP seems to want it both ways: strict and wildly unpopular abortion bans that are credited to its base, but no political price for unpopular policies that much of the rest of the country rejects.

The 2024 Republican platform hasn’t even been released yet, and there are signs that it’s shaping up to be a document that does little more than pledge allegiance to Trump and his MAGA politics. That means a lot of vague gestures: Trump has never been a politician who goes into policy details, or even mentions more than a few issues (crime, the economy, and immigration are his go-to topics). He boasts of his role in overturning Roe, but he doesn’t want to take responsibility for the backlash. And so his strategy seems to be to draft a platform that steers clear of pro-abortion extremism.

The draft platform suggests that abortion should be an issue left to the states, does not mention a national abortion ban as previous platforms have done, and, according to the New York Times, states that the party supports “access to contraception and in vitro fertilization treatments.” This is, in fact, a more moderate stance than the Republican Party has taken in the past.

It also seems like a lie.

The truth is that Republicans have already had the opportunity to do all of these things, and They haven’t. If the plan was to leave abortion to the states, why have Republicans pushed for a nationwide ban in Congress? Why has Trump suggested he would support a national ban starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy? Why have Republicans supported laws that would not only ban abortion from day one, but could also extend to IVF and many forms of contraception?

Why, when given the opportunity to vote to protect access to contraception, did Senate Republicans refuse? Why, when given the opportunity to vote to protect IVF, did Senate Republicans block the legislation from coming to a vote? Why did anti-abortion groups try to ban the abortion pill, and why did many Republicans not only back them, but take the liberty of warning pharmacies that sell these pills? Why do Republicans not seem to want to repeal a Victorian-era law that could criminalize abortion pills and, potentially, contraception as well?

The answer is, presumably, that Republicans don’t really plan to moderate on abortion. They simply increasingly understand that they need to say the right things to win power.

Trump has given little indication that he cares about abortion rights, one way or another, and has changed his mind on the issue throughout his life in the public eye. In 1999, he said he was “pro-choice in every respect,” even though he personally hated abortion.

Since his 2016 campaign, he seems to have said whatever he thinks Republican voters want to hear. He supported a 20-week national ban and promised to appoint pro-life judges who he says would overturn Roe. Earlier this year, he said a 15-week national ban sounded very reasonable; now he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Trump also appears to want to distance himself from Project 2025, a plan devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation that seeks to drastically reshape the federal government to better support a conservative agenda if Trump wins the White House.

“I have no idea who is behind this,” Trump said of Project 2025 on Truth Social. “I don’t agree with some of the things they’re saying and some of the things they’re saying are absolutely ridiculous and abysmal. Whatever they do, I wish them luck, but I have nothing to do with them.”

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Trump seems to have figured out that you have to say the right things if you want to get into power, regardless of whether you plan to follow through or not. He has proven himself to be neither an honest nor trustworthy man. We must therefore assume that what Trump says to get elected gives us very little information about what he will actually do when he is in office.

The anti-abortion movement seems to understand this better than anyone. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the New York Times that “the mission of the pro-life movement, over the next six months, must be to defeat the Biden-Harris extreme pro-abortion agenda.” After that point, she presumably understands that Trump can do whatever he wants. including the proposal of the extreme anti-abortion movement.

The anti-abortion strategy is clear: proclaim moderation, but in practice continue to push radically unpopular and extreme policies. Voters have a choice: we can believe what Donald Trump and his Republican Party say, or we can judge them by what they actually do.