Trump’s abortion strategy blew up worse than he could have imagined — within a day

Trump wanted to straddle both sides of the fence on abortion. The consequences were immediate and severe

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Wednesday 10 April 2024 17:09 BST
Donald Trump says states should choose their own abortion laws

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

On Monday, former president Donald Trump tried to triangulate on the subject of abortion, saying that “now that we have abortion where everybody wanted from a legal standpoint”. What he meant by that, he added, was that “the states will determine” whether and when abortion is allowed, and “whatever they decide must be the law of the land.”

Trump likely thought this would be a way to not explicitly endorse a national abortion ban but at the same time praise states that have restricted it. Indeed, just last week, Florida’s Supreme Court upheld a 15-week ban on the procedure, which subsequently triggered a six-week abortion ban. Confusingly, the same court said at the same time that an amendment to protect abortion rights could appear on the ballot in Florida in November.

Then, on Tuesday, Arizona’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s abortion ban from 1864, a previously ignored piece of legislation that comes from before Arizona was even a state.

The news — similar to Alabama’s IVF ruling in February — could not have come at a worse time. Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona in 2020 since Bill Clinton did in 1996, and Republicans desperately want to win it back.

The GOP wants to keep the focus on the economy and inflation. Indeed, the day after the announcement, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that inflation rose 0.4 per cent in March and 3.5 per cent in the last 12 months. Potentially good news for Republican campaigners — but people will instead focus on how Arizona effectively criminalized abortion.

This is in many ways the perfect culmination of the collapse of the Arizona Republican Party. Long seen as a Western state with a strong frontier libertarian streak, it has in the past elected ardent military hawks like John McCain or fiscal conservatives like Barry Goldwater, the father of modern conservatism, as well as Jeff Flake, who regularly used to put out a study of the most wasteful government spending projects.

But in the past decade and a half, the Arizona Republican Party moved hard to the right. In 2010, the state passed SB 1070, an anti-immigrant bill that required migrants to carry documentation at all times. The law sowed the seeds of the xenophobic sentiment that now pervades the GOP nationally. Jan Brewer, the governor who signed the bill, became one of the first public officials to endorse Trump in 2016.

The party lurched away from McCain — who, despite his conservatism, supported immigration reform — and Flake, who retired due to his opposition to Trump in 2018. Voters who had backed McCain and Flake were not impressed. That same year, Katie Hobbs would win the secretary of state race and Kyrsten Sinema would become the first Democrat in 30 years to win a Senate seat from Arizona in 30 years.

That proved to be only the beginning for Democrats’ wins. Increased migration from California and moderate Republican revulsion at Trump delivered the state to Biden in 2020. Democrat Mark Kelly won McCain’s old seat.

In 2022, Kelly would win a full term in the Senate against the Trump-endorsed Blake Masters, while Hobbs would win the governorship against chief election-denier Kari Lake. Democrat Kris Mayes won the attorney generalship against Abe Hamadeh, who has tried to sue to have a do-over in the state.

Indeed, the latter race — which was decided by just 280 votes — might make all the difference in the latest news on abortion. Mayes said in a statement on Tuesday that “no woman or doctor will be prosecuted” under the law.

It appears the Arizona Republican Party has not learned its lesson that going whole MAGA will only cause further electoral losses. Lake — who once memorably said that McCain-loving Republicans should “get the hell out” — is now the de facto nominee for Senate, with the backing of the national GOP. Hamadeh and Masters are duking it out for an open congressional seat, with Masters recently putting out an ad against Hamadeh that many have called Islamophobic. The fearmongering ad targets Hamadeh’s Syrian immigrant parents and claims that Hamadeh thinks the US is “founded on Islamic principles”.

Unsurprisingly, Bidenworld is going all-in on Arizona. Vice President Kamala Harris will head to Tucson on Friday to give a speech that will focus heavily on abortion rights.

But ballot initiatives don’t always translate into Democratic victories. In 2016, Floridians overwhelmingly voted to legalize medical marijuana in the same year Trump won the state (and a recreational marijuana initiative will be on the ballot this year). And in 2018, it voted to restore voting rights for felons the same year it made Ron DeSantis governor.

Likewise, months after Missouri voted to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare in 2020, it voted for Trump a second time.

Still, an outright abortion ban, the opportunity to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution and Biden’s perpetual reminder that the ban is the fruit of Trump’s labor puts Arizona firmly in Democratic crosshairs.

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