Donald Trump, the former US president, boasted about the “miracle” of ending the constitutional right to abortion but warned that Republicans who tout extreme bans are being “decimated” in elections.
Trump was put on the spot on Wednesday during a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, his latest attempt at counter-programming a Republican debate that was being shown on CNN at the same time.
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A female voter, undecided between Trump and rival Ron DeSantis, raised concerns over the Republican frontrunner’s recent attempts to back away from abortion restrictions unpopular in elections and opinion polls.
She said: “I’ve been vocal in celebrating with you all of your pro-life victories from the past but then in this campaign you’ve also blamed pro-lifers for some of the GOP losses around the country and you’ve called heartbeat laws like Iowa’s terrible.”
The voter added: “I’d just like some clarity on this because it’s such an important question to me. I’d like for you to reassure me that you can protect all life, every person’s right to life without compromise.”
Trump, sitting with co-hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, sought to shore up his conservative credentials by taking credit for the 2022 overturning of Roe v Wade, the ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide, by a supreme court with three Trump-appointed justices.
“You wouldn’t be asking that question, even talking about the issue, because for 54 years they were trying to get Roe v Wade terminated and I did it and I’m proud to have done it,” he said. “Nobody else was going to get that done but me and we did it and we did something that was a miracle.”
But as he has in recent campaign rallies, Trump also struck a note of caution. “Now I happen to be for the exceptions, like Ronald Reagan, with the life of the mother, rape, incest. I just have to be there, I feel. I think probably 78% or so, a poll, about 78%. It was Ronald Reagan. He was for it. I was for it.
“But I will say this: you have to win elections. Otherwise you’re going to be back where you were, and you can’t let that ever happen again. You’ve got to win elections.”
Trump suggested that Florida governor DeSantis’s decision to sign a six-week abortion ban could be one of the reasons for his drop in the polls ahead of Monday’s first presidential nomination contest in Iowa.
“A lot of people say, if you talk five or six weeks, a lot of women don’t know if they’re pregnant in five or six weeks,” he said. “I want to get something where people are happy. You know, this has been tearing our country apart for 50 years. Nobody’s been able to do anything.”
Trump went on to claim that Democrats were “the radicals” and repeated his false claim that they are willing to kill babies in the eighth or ninth month or pregnancy or even after birth.
The exchange illustrated how Trump, who has a long history of veering between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” positions, is attempting to walk a fine line between his conservative base and electoral expediency.
But his embrace of the demise of Roe v Wade handed Democrats more ammunition. Joe Biden’s X account released a video clip of Trump’s answer, commenting: “Just like he said: he did it.”
The 77-year-old also used the town hall to claim that he was “not going to be a dictator” and promise “the largest deportation effort in the history of our country”. He also revealed that he had decided the identity of his running mate.
Asked who he would pick as potential vice-president, Trump replied: “Well, I can’t tell you that, really. I mean, I know who it’s going to be but –”
Baier entreated: “Give us a hint.”
But Trump offered only: “We’ll do another show some time.”