Donald Trump supporters have learned to take the good with the bad. Contrary to what many non-supporters believe, Trump’s voters aren’t imbecilic sycophants who hang on every word that comes out of the frontrunner’s mouth. General statements about any group of voters are bound to fail under scrutiny, but Trump’s base is largely comprised of disgruntled Republicans who are sick and tired of lies and corruption. They see in Trump a chance to completely flip the table over and start fresh. They don’t, however, jump for joy at every outrageous statement the man makes.
This week, Trump provided his supporters with plenty of headache-inducing material. Trapped by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Wednesday, the real estate mogul wound up stumbling over a serious question about abortion.
Matthews asked Trump to comment on what it would look like to enforce a ban on abortion. Would women be punished for seeking an illegal abortion?
“Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump said.
Matthews pressed on, undoubtedly hoping to force Trump into saying something he clearly didn’t want to say. The gambit eventually worked. Lost in an issue that he has clearly not spent a lot of time thinking about, Trump finally said, “There has to be some form of punishment.”
“For the woman?” Matthews asked.
“Yeah,” Trump said.
The news channels were all over the story before the town hall event even aired. Republicans are expected to carry a pro-life message, but Trump’s opinion on punishing women is not a legitimate part of any political platform. Within hours, critics were attacking him from all sides. Democrats naturally unleashed the worst of the criticism, but pro-life conservatives were also concerned. Mike Huckabee, who has been an outspoken Trump supporter, admitted to Joe Scarborough that it was not a great moment for the candidate.
“He wasn’t prepared for it,” Huckabee said Thursday. “It’s clear that he had not thought through that whole idea of do you punish the woman, and of course you don’t.” Later in the interview, the former Arkansas governor said, “It was a terrible answer. Nobody’s going to defend what he said, because the idea of we’ve gotta have some punishment, and even in his answer he was fumbling around trying to figure out what to say.”
In a tweet on behalf of Ted Cruz, one of the Texas senator’s aides said the answer was evidence that Trump was a charlatan. “Don’t overthink it: Trump doesn’t understand the pro-life position because he’s not pro-life.”
That’s debatable, but these are the kinds of questions that cause heartburn for conservatives who really want to see Trump crush Hillary in November. It’s not just the position itself; it’s what the Clinton camp will do with these remarks in a general election.
As for Trump, he wasted little time denouncing his own comments. In a statement later in the day, he said:
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”
For a man who loathes going back on his positions, this was a wise time to break with tradition. Unfortunately, it won’t stop his opponents from exploiting a bad moment for all that it’s worth.