Things got a little embarrassing for Donald Trump last week when he said he supports banning abortions and “punishing” women who try to terminate unwanted pregnancies, only to walk it all back soon after. But by the time the Republican presidential frontrunner offered his fifth position on the controversial issue over the course of three days, it was more than just another gaffe.
Days after evoking a firestorm of criticism for his comments on abortion, Donald Trump said in an upcoming interview that federal law keeping abortions legal should remain in place.“At this moment the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way,” Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson in an interview that will air Sunday. […] “The laws are set now on abortion and that’s the way they’re going to remain until they’re changed,” Trump said at another point in the interview.
Following a familiar pattern, the Trump campaign soon after had to explain that the candidate didn’t mean what he said. “Mr. Trump gave an accurate account of the law as it is today and made clear it must stay that way now – until he is president,” his spokesperson said on Friday afternoon. “Then he will change the law through his judicial appointments and allow the states to protect the unborn.”
For those keeping score, the Washington Post did a nice job documenting the competing positions Trump and his campaign team took on abortion policy from Wednesday afternoon to Friday afternoon. We can all think of candidates who’ve flip-flopped on one issue or another, but it’s exceedingly rare to see a leading presidential hopeful execute a flip-flop-flip-flop-flip.
Asked in the same CBS interview, which was recorded on Friday and aired yesterday, whether he considers abortion to be murder, Trump responded, “I do have my opinions on it. I would rather, I just don’t think it’s an appropriate forum.”
In this case, “it” was “Face the Nation” – a program that exists so that prominent public figures can offer their perspective on major issues of the day.
I’ve seen some suggestions that the electoral impact of this is likely to be limited, and that may well be true. Voters who are principally motivated by an opposition to reproductive rights have probably already sided with Ted Cruz or John Kasich – both of whom are extremely conservative on the issue – so Trump’s general incoherence on the subject probably won’t change a lot of minds.
But I nevertheless think it’s important to acknowledge what we’re learning about Trump’s skills at the mechanics of running for president. At some point over the last year or so, the New York Republican decided he’d run as anti-abortion candidate. Given the state of the GOP’s platform over the last few decades, this made tactical sense.
But note the degree to which Trump never even considered familiarizing himself with any of the details – such as, say, whether he supports policies that would punish women who try to terminate unwanted pregnancies. After Wednesday’s problematic interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, common sense suggests Trump should have taken a moment to huddle with aides and nail down specifically what his position will be.
Except, that obviously never happened (or if it did happen, the candidate promptly forgot what it was he was supposed to say). On Thursday, Trump tried to blame the context of the Matthews interview – the defense didn’t hold up when MSNBC released an unedited clip of the exchange – and on Friday, Trump still had no idea what he was talking about on the issue, even though he must have known the questions were coming.
In other words, this is a reminder, not just about the limits of his knowledge, but also Trump’s indifference towards doing his homework. The Republican frontrunner hasn’t even tried to demonstrate competence, apparently because he hasn’t felt like he’s had to. He’s gotten this far without having any idea what he was doing on numerous important issues. Will Trump change now, and even if he does, is it too late?