Trump is Transparent About His Awfulness—Except When Discussing Abortion?
The president dismissed concerns that Roe v. Wade may be in trouble at Tuesday night’s debate. This is the one card he’s playing close to his chest.
The first presidential debate was undeniably exhausting to watch, and at times, it was truly difficult to decipher what was being said between Trump’s shouts and taunts. Even moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News — Trump’s home team — had a hard time keeping up with the chaos. After 82 minutes of excruciating noise, Wallace called on Biden to answer Trump’s final question. Biden raised his eyebrows and said, “His final question is? I can’t remember which of all his rantings.” And Wallace, an incompetent moderator at best, responded, “I’m having a little trouble myself,” with a giggle.
And Trump did rant. Most notably, in the midst of the mayhem, he also refused to denounce white supremacy. Instead, Trump decided to issue a rallying call to his Proud Boys, asking them to “stand back and stand by.” This quote has made headlines, and justifiably so. It is awful, shocking, and dangerous for the country. It is all of those things, but it is not unexpected. We have watched Trump openly admit to his awfulness time and time again. He knows this is music to the ears of the conservative groups he expects to rescue him, through intimidation and violence, when he loses the election this November.
Trump is open about his awfulness, which makes it especially eerie when it’s obvious he is trying to hide something. Only five minutes into the debate, while discussing the Supreme Court nomination, Biden noted that women’s rights could be “fundamentally changed.” Trump had the audacity to bring the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy into the mix, arguing that, “at some point, ten years ago, or so, she said, a president and the senate is elected for a period of time. But a president is elected for four years, we’re not elected for three years, I’m not elected for three years…” He proceeded to suggest that during that period of time he has “an opening.”
Trump is open about his awfulness, which makes it especially eerie when it’s obvious he is trying to hide something.
This pandering and disrespectful use of RBG’s legacy — the legacy of a champion of women’s rights — aside, what happened next was quick, but frightening. After a disorderly back and forth about the future of the Affordable Care Act, Biden turned his attention to the other big ticket issue regarding this Supreme Court nomination: Roe v. Wade. He explained that it is “on the ballot in the Court, so that’s also at stake, right now.” But before he could finish his thought, Trump jeered back, “You don’t know what’s on the ballot. Why is it on the ballot? It’s not on the ballot.”
Here’s the thing — it’s on the ballot. Experts have been discussing what will happen to Roe v. Wade if (or when) Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed since the moment Mitch McConnell declared that Republicans would move forward with the nomination. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the Berkeley School of Law, told reporter Jessica Yellin, “I have no doubt, no one has any doubt, that Amy Coney Barrett, will be the fifth vote to overrule Roe.” Mary Ziegler, law professor and leading expert on the legal history of abortion in the U.S., told NPR last week, “Both from the standpoint of signals on the Court and signals in American politics, we have every reason to believe Roe is in jeopardy.” This is happening, so why is Trump trying to hide it?
When Biden pushed again, reaffirming, “it’s on the ballot in the Court,” Trump feigned ignorance. “I don’t think so, there’s nothing happening there.” Before moderator Chris Wallace, and it’s easy to forget that there was a moderator, swiftly moved the candidates on to the next topic, Trump made one last attempt to reassure viewers that nothing is happening. Talking over Biden, he said, “And you don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.”
Here’s the thing — we do know her view on Roe v. Wade. Trump knows it too. Barrett’s anti-abortion stance is likely one of the main reasons she was selected. Let’s not forget that Trump promised to overturn Roe v. Wade during the 2016 presidential debates: “That will happen automatically, in my opinion. Because I am putting pro-life justices on the Court.” Once again, Trump was explicit about his intentions. So why the sudden sneaky behavior?
Trump’s performance at Tuesday night’s debate was nothing short of desperate. His only strategy was to yell and shout over Biden—and “moderator” Chris Wallace—as much as possible in order to prevent anything potentially disparaging from being said about him. Trump can feel his presidency slipping away, and he is willing to claw and scratch and incite violence by any means necessary to get it back.
The most recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade. Like it or not, abortion exists in a grey area. People have nuanced opinions on the topic and it has become increasingly difficult to pigeonhole the public into one camp or the other. There will be overlap. There will be Trump supporters who need abortions. And if we do ask Americans to firmly state their beliefs, it is clear they side with Roe. Trump suddenly doesn’t want to talk about his dogged attempts to reverse it because he knows which way the public leans. He can’t take that risk right now, not when he’s this close to losing it all.