It should be Donald Trump’s crowning achievement, one that fulfilled the deepest wish many conservatives have held for generations.
Three of the Supreme Court justices appointed by the former president signed onto the initial draft opinion that appears to signal the end of the landmark abortions right case, Roe v. Wade.
But at a moment of seeming triumph, the normally braggadocious Trump has been subdued.
The former president, never one to shy away from taking credit for accomplishments, real or imagined, has yet to crow about the majority draft opinion. And when asked about it in interviews, he steered clear of anything resembling a victory lap. Instead, he expressed displeasure that the draft leaked and sidestepped weighing in on the issue of abortion rights. On Wednesday night at Mar-a-Lago, he told POLITICO he was waiting to see “finality” in the case.
“Nobody knows what exactly it represents, if that’s going to be it,” Trump said of the draft opinion. “I think the one thing that really is so horrible is the leaking… for the court and for the country.”
Trump has yet to put out a statement on the draft opinion and has only addressed it when asked in interviews. In one, he even conceded that a portion of the public might blame him for what could soon transpire.
“Some people maybe say it’s my fault,” he said of putting three conservative justices on the Supreme Court during an appearance Wednesday on the Christian Broadcast Network. “And some people say, thank you very much.”
It is notable reticence on an issue that could give the former president another peg on which to build a possible 2024 White House bid. But it also echoes the position of much of the Republican party, which is keeping its powder dry on the draft opinion even as anti-abortion rights groups claimed victory.
The reason for Trump’s reluctance to claim credit, according to four current and former advisers familiar with his thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss their conversations, is that there is concern the final decision may not turn out the same as the draft. But the advisers still insist the former president will aggressively claim ownership of a Supreme Court decision ending Roe once a ruling is formally issued.
“It is disgusting to watch Democrats politicize an unprecedented partisan leak from the U.S. Supreme Court, but until the court actually announces their decision there is nothing to comment on,” said Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich.
Like Trump, scores of Republicans have avoided or side-stepped discussing the substance of the ruling — something they have sought for their careers — to instead focus on the disclosure of the draft itself. For the party, the timing of the draft opinion and the soon-to-be-issued ruling on Roe is not politically ideal.
At the moment, the upcoming midterms seem focused on inflation and other problems that are invariably blamed on the party of the current president, leading to strong odds that the GOP could win both houses of Congress. Ending the right to abortion is not broadly popular: A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week found that 54 percent of Americans want Roe v. Wade to be upheld, while 28 percent want the decision overturned, with 18 percent being neutral.
The fear among Republicans, including those close to Trump, is that a backlash to a decision abolishing a major constitutional right by a Supreme Court stacked with GOP appointees could alter the trajectory of the midterm campaigns.
“I think a lot of Republicans, as excited as they are about this, they realize the election is going to be about what we think it’s going to be about – inflation, crime, schools – so there’s no reason for a Republican to make their campaign a one issue campaign,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist.
Trump’s biggest fans have already begun crediting him for the possibility of Roe being overturned. Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative Turning Point USA, told POLITICO that the draft opinion “gives conservatives that did hold their nose — and there was a fair amount — a little bit of like, ‘Hey, we did the right thing,’ and I’m getting a lot of that sense from people.”
But the emergence of abortion as a top-flight issue also places a spotlight on a position that has been historically awkward for the former president.
Born into wealth and living in a penthouse atop a Manhattan skyscraper emblazoned with his name in gold, Trump has long been the least likely representative of deep-red America. He described himself in 1999 as “very pro-choice” but then switched to being an abortion opponent when he became a Republican before seeking the party’s nomination in 2016.
In March 2016, he went so far as to suggest that a woman who had an abortion should be criminally punished, a claim he quickly walked back. Days later, he was asked by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd if he was ever involved with anyone who had an abortion.
“Such an interesting question,” the candidate told her. “So what’s your next question?”
Though his biography — a twice-divorced billionaire who was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault — seemed anathema to Christian conservatives, evangelicals have embraced him, looking past his flaws toward what he could do for them. He, in turn, openly pledged to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would end Roe v. Wade — a promise that won over remaining skeptics.
“In 2016, one of the key issues driving Conservative women to the polls was the Supreme Court, mostly due to the issue of abortion,” said Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America in a text message. “His pledge on the Court gave pro-life women both the confidence and the incentive to turn out for President Trump.”
The end product of that work came into focus this week, when POLITICO reported on a draft opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito and, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, signed by the three justices who Trump nominated to the court: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. In it, they ruled that there was no constitutional right to abortion — a decision that, if adopted, would send the matter back to the states and likely result in the banning of practice across a large swath of the country.
While Trump may be reluctant, for now, to talk about the impending end of Roe, he clearly wants to keep his ties to the religious right intact. In that CBN interview, he proudly proclaimed: “Nobody has done more for Christianity, no one has done more for religion of all types than me.”