For a half-century, since abortion rights were enshrined in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, opposition to abortion has been a defining stance for the GOP. Every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan has taken a hard line on the issue, and in return anti-abortion activists have provided ground troops and a reliable voting bloc.
But Trump last month called the six-week ban on abortion signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “a big mistake” and said exceptions to a ban in cases of rape and incest should be included in state laws. He has dodged questions about whether he would support a federal ban, and he offered himself as the perfect figure to negotiate a compromise with abortion rights advocates that would leave both sides happy.
He blamed the issue for costing Republicans in last year’s midterm elections, when Democrats targeted appeals to suburban women and others alarmed by new state bans.
His comments brought criticism from anti-abortion groups and some of his primary challengers. DeSantis said he had “not just given lip service” to the issue, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott faulted Trump for refusing to commit to supporting a 15-week federal ban.
Since then, there has been no immediate evidence that his yawning leads have suffered either in the opening Iowa caucuses−where evangelical Christians are a political force−or in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, a state with a libertarian streak.
In the USA TODAY poll of the Granite State, Trump was backed by 49% of likely Republican primary voters, a 30 percentage-point lead over former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who finished second at 19%.
Just 4% of those surveyed called abortion the most important issue affecting their vote.
“I suppose for a lot of people, it is a powerful issue,” said Richard Aliano, 77, of Wolfeboro, N.H., a retired lawyer who was among those surveyed. “I’m not strongly pro-life, not pro-choice. As I say, I think it should be left up to the individual states to decide and the people in the states to decide.”