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Trump remains silent on DeSantis' six-week abortion ban

It's not clear where Trump, a Florida resident, stands on the question of whether abortion should be illegal at six weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law last week.
Former President Donald Trump attends the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 287 mixed martial arts event at the Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida, on April 8, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump in Miami on April 8.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images file

Donald Trump isn't quiet about much.

But after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban, the former president has remained silent on the subject.

He didn’t chide DeSantis for signing the bill late Thursday. Nor did he needle him for sidestepping the issue at two events Friday, one of them at the conservative Liberty University.

Trump’s aides have criticized DeSantis from both sides on abortion. But it remains a mystery where Trump, a Florida resident, stands on the question of whether abortion should be illegal at six weeks.

“There is a silence because there’s a recognition that this is probably not going to be great for a general election,” Republican strategist David Urban, a former Trump adviser who is neutral in the 2024 primary campaign, said of DeSantis’ and Trump’s avoiding the topic.

Trump’s uncharacteristic tiptoeing underscores the political risk of supporting a six-week abortion ban. While many conservative voters who make up the GOP's base embrace the new Florida law, Republicans overall have struggled to present a unified position on abortion since the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade and a half-century of precedent on reproductive rights. After Republicans suffered losses in the November midterms they were supposed to dominate, Trump himself blamed abortion politics.

On Monday, a Trump adviser said the six-week abortion ban has been a topic of internal discussion ever since it became clear the law was about to be enacted. 

Aides, however, say they don’t want to get ahead of Trump on the subject, with a spokesman saying, “He will address it if he is asked about it.”

Trump has generally avoided the topic of abortion since he launched his 2024 campaign.

However, the issue could come up Saturday. Trump is scheduled to call in to Iowa’s Faith & Freedom Coalition spring event and take questions, said the group’s president Steve Scheffler, who's also an Iowa Republican National committeeman.

A pro-DeSantis super PAC has seized on Trump’s silence.

“Governor DeSantis has an incredible record of success in protecting the unborn and children with heartbeats from the brutality of abortion,” said Erin Perrine, spokeswoman for the Never Back Down super PAC, told NBC News in a statement Monday. “Donald Trump’s latest contribution to the pro-life movement has been blaming pro-life voters for 2022 midterm losses instead of his endorsements burying candidates that should have won.”

The criticism of Trump from allies of DeSantis, who so far isn't publicly discussing the bill he signed, underscores the hot-potato nature of the issue among Republicans.

Trump’s team is more comfortable addressing abortion in terms of what he did as president — specifically setting the table for states to restrict abortion — than how he views the new law in his home state.

“The thing we’ve been pointing to is he has a pretty flawless record when it comes to pro-life and protecting life,” not the least of which is the appointment of Supreme Court justices before Roe v. Wade was overturned, said Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman. “In terms of the six weeks, I don’t want to get ahead of what he’ll say about that or what he’ll propose. I think he’ll lay out a pretty clear agenda for that.”

Mike Noble, an independent pollster who regularly surveys the Southwest, including the battleground state of Arizona, said it’s no surprise Trump is staying mum on the topic for as long as he can. 

“Trump thinks the Dobbs ruling hurt GOPers last November,” Noble said. “He does not want the six-week issue used against him in a general election.”

Noble pointed to national polling that shows broad support for some form of legal abortion and noted that a six-week ban would not sit well with women, swing voters and independents, particularly in battleground states. The silence from DeSantis and Trump is indicative of the larger quandary facing Republicans.

“It’s the big conundrum that the GOP is currently facing,” Noble said. “They still don’t really have an answer for it. That’s why Democrats keep teeing off on this issue. The GOP is fractured.”

The Florida law bans abortions at six weeks but creates exemptions for rape and incest up to 15 weeks into pregnancy.

Some strategists say the abortion debate has long been challenging for Trump.

Brad Todd, a GOP strategist, said Trump’s relationship with anti-abortion activists has been “in the nature of an alliance” more than in a shared cause since he burst onto the political scene in 2015.

“This has never been Trump’s favorite issue,” Todd said.