Donald Trump sent a message about his priorities to social conservatives Sunday on “60 Minutes”: On abortion, I'll keep fighting. On gay marriage, not so much.
But his justification was confusing — and likely will be to some of his biggest supporters in the evangelical community. Trump basically said that the Supreme Court's 17-month-old ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide is over and done with, but its 43-year-old decision legalizing abortion — Roe v. Wade — shouldn't be. And he did all of this in the course of a few minutes.
Here's the exchange on gay marriage:
LESLEY STAHL: Do you support marriage equality?
TRUMP: It — it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.
STAHL: So even if you appoint a judge that —
TRUMP: It’s done. It — you have — these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.
Just prior, though, Trump said he would appoint “pro-life” judges in hopes of reversing Roe v. Wade and sending the issue back to the states:
STAHL: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint — are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?
TRUMP: So look, here’s what’s going to happen — I’m going to — I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very —
STAHL: But what about overturning this law —
TRUMP: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be pro-life, they’ll be — in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment, and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment, and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states. So it would go back to the states and —
STAHL: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion?
TRUMP: No, it’ll go back to the states.
STAHL: By state — no some —
TRUMP: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.
To put it mildly, these two positions are irreconcilable. Trump could make the case that the country favors gay marriage more than it does abortion. He could argue that one is simply more important to him because it involves issues of life. He could say it would be easier to overturn one than the other.
But those aren't his arguments. Instead, he props up a 17-month-old decision on gay marriage as settled law, but a 1973 decision on abortion as something that could be overturned. That's having it both ways.
Now, these positions aren't all that dissimilar from the ones he staked out on the campaign trail. There was a Fox News interview back in January in which he said he would “strongly consider” appointing justices that would overturn the gay marriage ruling — Obergefell v. Hodges. “If I'm elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things,” Trump said at the time. But otherwise, his position on gay marriage has been that it's settled law, just as it was Sunday.
The real reason he sings a different tune on abortion is because it's become a much bigger deal to social conservatives. This is an issue that has constantly split our country just about down the middle, with the GOP base being extremely passionate about it. Same-sex marriage, on the other hand, is on a clear trajectory toward broad acceptance.
Here's gay marriage:
And here's abortion:
Reached Monday, National Organization for Marriage spokesman Joe Grabowski said, “We disagree that Obergefell is ‘settled law,’ and any future Supreme Court should overturn this erroneous decision just as President-elect Trump concedes that a future Supreme Court may overturn Roe.”
Otherwise, though, these groups haven't really reacted to a GOP president-elect basically throwing in the towel on marriage.
But just to be clear: The reason Trump isn't fighting against gay marriage isn't because it's settled law; it's because he doesn't really want or need to. On abortion — an issue on which he once claimed to be “very pro-choice” and then struggled mightily with during the GOP primary — he has no choice.