Trump dusts off the GOP’s 2022 abortion playbook: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, political reporter Allan Smith examines how Donald Trump’s new abortion stance takes a page from the GOP’s 2022 midterm playbook. Plus, senior political editor Mark Murray asks if policy announcements from Trump and Joe Biden on Monday were blotted out by the total solar eclipse.

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Trump dusts off the GOP’s 2022 abortion playbook

By Allan Smith

Donald Trump’s just-released position on abortion rights was tried and tested during the 2022 midterms — and the results for his party were mixed at best.

Pressed for months on whether he would support federal abortion restrictions as president, Trump on Monday said the issue should be left to the states. 

“My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both,” he said in a video statement. “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.”

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Many Republican candidates took this tack in the midterm cycle after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, seeking to sidestep taking a position on federal legislation by saying the question was up to the states — even though the federal government can act on the issue.

For example, Republicans Mehmet Oz, Don Bolduc and Adam Laxalt all took this approach and lost 2022 Senate races in key battleground states — Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Nevada. On the flip side, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson took this approach and won re-election in Wisconsin, while Blake Masters backed federal action and lost his Senate race in Arizona.

“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said in a 2022 debate versus Democrat John Fetterman, adding he wanted to leave the decisions to “women, doctors” and “local political leaders.”

That answer was played repeatedly in anti-Oz ads during the closing weeks of that contest, with Fetterman and allies seeking to tie Oz to stringent state-level restrictions either proposed or called for by Republicans.

That’s where Republicans ran into major issues then, as operatives and lawmakers conceded at the time. It was in the run-up to that election, as Republican candidates were getting hammered on the issue, that those lawmakers and strategists conspired to get a 15-week national ban with exceptions introduced in Congress. It was a move widely seen by Republicans as offering a lifeline for candidates who were being tied closely to strict state-level proposals and making it easier for their opponents to portray them as extremists. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who introduced that 15-week legislation just before the midterm elections, said Monday “I respectfully disagree” with Trump’s new stated position.

Trump blamed Republican shortcomings in the midterms on “the abortion issue,” which he said on Truth Social last year was “poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters.”

And in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” last year, he criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban into law.

But if the problem is being portrayed as too extreme on the issue, the 2022 campaign showed that once the stage is ceded to the states, candidates open themselves up to be linked to all of the most strict proposals. 

That includes the laws and proposals that Trump, who took credit Monday for the overturn of Roe, thinks weren’t a very good idea.  

Click here for a timeline of Trump’s shifting abortion views →

What the eclipse overshadowed in the 2024 campaign

By Mark Murray

Joe Biden at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis.
Joe Biden at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis., on April 8, 2024. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP – Getty Images

It wasn’t just the sun that got eclipsed on Monday. 

So too did important policy proposals and statements by President Joe Biden and Trump in the 2024 campaign — almost as if they announced them knowing that the eclipse coverage would obscure everything else. 

Let’s start with Trump, who issued a long-awaited statement on his abortion position. In a 4 ½-minute video, Trump said that abortion restrictions should be left to the states; that he supports exceptions in the cases of rape, incest and to protect a mother’s life; and that “all legal scholars” and “both sides” wanted Roe v. Wade ended (which is false). 

There’s a good reason why Trump might have picked Eclipse Monday to announce this news: The GOP’s efforts around abortion remain unpopular. 

Poll after poll shows approximately 60% of voters disapproving of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, some 60% believing abortion should be legal always or most of the time, and more than 6 in 10 favoring a law guaranteeing abortion access nationwide.

The Biden campaign jumped all over Trump’s video. “Donald Trump made it clear once again today that he is — more than anyone in America — the person responsible for ending Roe v. Wade,” the president said in a statement.

Trump’s abortion statement also contained plenty of unanswered questions: Would he sign a federal abortion ban as president? Would he be opposed to states that don’t provide exceptions? Would he protect residents who travel to other states to get abortions? 

It was almost as if Trump wanted to check the box — and do nothing more. 

Then there was Biden’s announcement Monday of revised plans to cancel more student debt

While student loan forgiveness isn’t as unpopular with the American electorate as abortion restrictions are, it’s not a slam dunk with the public, either. 

Polling has found that about half of Americans supported Biden’s previous plan to forgive a maximum of $20,000 in federal student loan debt for those receiving Pell Grants, as well as $10,000 for those not receiving those grants. 

But Biden’s student loan push is an effort to fulfill a campaign promise, including with younger voters, after the Supreme Court struck down his original plan from a year ago. 

So Biden’s trying to check a box, too — albeit on the same day that the solar eclipse blocked out almost everything else.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🗺️ An Electoral College-level course: Biden and Trump might be virtually tied in national polls, but if the GOP has retained its Electoral College advantage, then the president is further behind than one might think. Read more →
  • 🛝 Recess is over: Speaker Mike Johnson faces the daunting challenge of navigating the stalled military aid package for Ukraine and other allies, the debate over renewing a controversial surveillance program, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and funding the Baltimore bridge rebuild — all while one conservative hard-liner threatens to depose him. Read more →
  • 👉 Pressure points: In the Senate, Democrats are eager to quickly dismiss the House’s articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week, but Republicans want to make the proceedings as politically painful as possible. Read more →
  • 🪖 Sheehy or didn’t he? The Washington Post investigated Montana GOP Senate hopeful Tim Sheehy’s claim on the campaign trail that he had suffered a gunshot wound while serving in Afghanistan. After finding court documents showing Sheehy claimed he accidentally shot himself in the arm at a national park, the Republican claims he lied to cover up a war injury he never reported to his superior officers. Read more →
  • 📺 A ratings boost: Democrats used to chastise the media for giving Trump too much airtime, but now they’re pushing voters to watch his rallies to get an unvarnished look at the GOP presidential nominee. Read more →
  • 🌒 Eclipsemas: Tens of millions of people were able to catch Monday’s total solar eclipse, gathering across North America for watch events and celebration. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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