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Donald Trump spoke to one of the country’s most fervently anti-abortion groups on Monday, but never said the word “abortion” — leaving the audience lukewarm while underscoring the issue’s dicey election-year dynamics. 

The Danbury Institute describes itself as “an association of churches, Christians, and organizations aligned to affirm and preserve God-given rights to life and liberty…and promoting Judeo-Christian values as the proper foundation for a free and prosperous republic.” In addition to opposing abortion, the group also works against, among other things, “LGBTQ+ indoctrination of children, gender confusion, transgender ideology, the dissolution of the nuclear family.”

The Institute’s stance on abortion is unequivocal: “We will not rest until it is eradicated entirely.” The same can’t said for Trump’s rhetoric in the one-minute, 44-second pre-recorded video he sent to the group’s Indianapolis gathering. Channeling the tactics of a TV psychic medium, Trump’s intentionally vague language was meant to give the audience every opportunity to interpret it in the way they’d find favorable: 

  • “We have to defend religious liberty, free speech, innocent life and the heritage and tradition that built America into the greatest nation in the history of the world”

  • “Each of you is protecting those values…and I hope we’ll be defending them side by side”

  • “I know where you’re coming from and where you’re going, and I’ll be with you side by side”  

The words “innocent life” were Trump’s only nod to the issue. Some in the audience saw through Trump’s oratorical snow job, including pastor Rick Patrick of First Baptist Church of Sylacauga, Alabama told Politico

“He sounded more like a politician who wants to be elected. I voted for him and I plan to vote for him again, but he was not like the other speakers who were here talking about religious things.

A similar sentiment was offered by Kevin McClure, a Baptist attendee from Louisville: 

“It’s disappointing because you would hope to have a Republican presidential candidate who speaks strongly that life begins at conception.

Conversely, some major media outlets ran with the most anti-abortion interpretation of Trump’s hazy rhetoric, exemplified by a Washington Post headline: “Trump Vows To Be ‘Side By Side’ With Group That Wants Abortion ‘Eradicated’.” Other Biden boosters tried to connect the same dots:  

One of the most historic events transpiring during Trump’s term in office was the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, which quite rationally turned the enormously divisive abortion issue back to the purview of individual states. Three Trump-appointed justices voted to overturn Roe. Even on that score, Trump didn’t take an explicit victory lap in his Monday remarks, instead saying he hopes he’s earned the audience’s support “because we’ve done things that nobody thought were possible.” 

Abortion is a major driver of Democratic voter turnout, so Trump is wise to soft-pedal the topic — as leftists are otherwise profoundly unenthusiastic about the Democrats’ 2024 flag-bearer. In March, Trump hinted that he was considering the merits of a federal, 15-week ban on abortion. In a particularly preposterous statement, Trump promised that, if he were elected, he’d “come together with all the groups” to “negotiate something” that “would make both sides happy.” 

In May, however, Trump issued a video statement in which he embraced a state-by-state approach, saying:   

The states will determine by legislation or vote or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state. Many states will be different, many will have a different number of weeks or some will have more conservative than others, and that’s what they will be. At the end of the day, this is all about the will of the people,” 

Trump will be walking an abortion tightrope until Election Day, going easy on his opposition to the practice, while trying to avoid fostering resentment in the pro-life crowd that’s a key GOP constituency. A progressive polling firm found that, to Republicans’ benefit, “infrequent voters” — the ones who only turn out only when they’re fired up but who are often a key element in Democratic victories — rank abortion only the 11th most-important issue, well behind a pack of worries that has inflation and jobs first. 

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