How the Smart Set Was Wrong About Trump and the Unborn

Trump recently took $60 million away from Planned Parenthood, the first president ever to do so. This and other unique pro-life initiatives of President Trump turned my mind to certain claims made by the pro-life Smart Set back in those crazy days of the 2016 campaign.

In March 2016, a group of old and very dear friends signed an appeal to fellow Catholics pleading with them not to vote for Trump. They wrote that the Republican Party had been a vehicle for providing protection for unborn children, defending religious freedom, rebuilding the marriage culture, and the reestablishment of constitutional and limited government. All of this was true enough.

But all of this, they said, was “in grave danger” because of the rise of Donald Trump, a man who “is manifestly unfit to be the president of the United States.” They argued there was nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gave them confidence he would protect the unborn, religious freedom, the rights of conscience, subsidiarity, or limited government. You really cannot blame them for seeing things this way.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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One must put aside the fact that many in this group enthusiastically supported George W. Bush who refused to campaign on the marriage issue, was reasonably pro-life, but was hardly a paladin of limited government.

They published their letter a week before the March 15 Super Tuesday primary that was expected to winnow the field further from the remaining candidates: Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz. The letter had no effect. Trump crushed the field. Rubio lost his home state—an outcome some of us saw coming a mile away—and dropped out. Cruz and Kasich hung on for another six weeks. Even then, there was hope the convention would be taken from Trump on the second ballot. Recall, this was why Trump hired Paul Manafort who was experienced in running a convention effort.

There was much sturm und drang that summer about how to stop Trump. A lot of hair got set on fire. Bill Kristol tried desperately but failed to find a credible third-party candidate.

In June came a spate of articles from writers Ben Domenech, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, and Charles Camosy. These Smart Setters were unhappy with the longtime alliance of pro-lifers and the Republican Party. Frenchman Gobry called it “tawdry.”

Domenech kicked it off with a column that said “there has been a great deal of discussion of late of the desire, on the part of many Republicans and conservatives frustrated by the nomination of Donald Trump, to form a new party.” This may have been the case in Domenech’s crowd. Not in mine.

Domenech also did not buy Trump’s pro-life claims including his list of potential Supreme Court justices which he offered in May. Domenech also repeated the claim that Trump had tried to force Marla Maples to have an abortion. The proof? A comment he made on the Howard Stern Show.

As models of third-party success, Domenech pointed to the Free Soil Party, which lasted for eight years until 1854, and the Liberty Party, which put up losing presidential candidates every four years from 1848 to 1860. They did have limited success, but I suspect you have never heard of them. I hadn’t.

In the pages of The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry grandly asserted that a pro-life third party would “utterly transform American politics.” It should be noted how difficult it is for foreigners to truly understand the politics of a country not their own. This has never stopped Gobry from opining.

Like many in the Smart Set, Gobry despises Trump. He said Trump was not pro-life “in any way, shape, or form.” He pointed to Trump’s inability to talk about the issue. It’s true, he was new to it and he fumbled a lot. Trump also said he would continue to fund the non-abortion part of Planned Parenthood, which admittedly is a tiny part. Still, Trump said he intended to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business, which is something Congressional Republicans have been unable or unwilling to do. And Trump wanted to accept the abortion exceptions of rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother, which are exceptions millions of pro-lifers would accept on the way to a total ban.

Gobry said blacks would not join the Republican Party because of the “southern strategy”; this is something that has been repeatedly debunked, but it remains a talking point of the left. But, blacks would join a pro-life party as long as the new party was pregnant with beaucoup social spending.

Gobry has long been a critic of the pro-life support of the GOP. He thinks we have gotten very little out of it. He thinks we are fools as does Charles Camosy of Fordham University. The latter loved the Domenech third-party proposal and equally hates Donald Trump.

Camosy wrote: “Donald Trump is a liar and a fraud…. No one should believe his far-too-convenient pro-life conversion, especially given his incoherent positions.” Camosy says that to be truly pro-life one must become a vegetarian and that the Church calls for this. I am quite sure, however, that Jesus said, “Thanks, mom, I will have more of that tasty Passover lamb.”

Trump was not my candidate. Cruz was. Even so, my wife and I defended Trump and Trump supporters, including those like my own mother, who were coming under withering attack from otherwise lovely people. At dinner parties in our neighborhood, I had to calm my wife who got quite heated defending Trump.

We saw that Trump knew he was fighting a three-front war: the media, the left, and the establishment. We also trusted he would do as well as Rubio, or Jeb, or even Cruz on the life issues. My take was that he did not care a bit about the issue, but that it would work to our advantage because he would do the bidding of his supporters among Evangelicals, Catholics, and pro-life leaders—all of whom were roundly mocked by the Smart Set. We also understood he cared not one bit for the approval of the New York Times and other centers of cultural power. That, too, would work to our advantage. The moment Cruz dropped out on May 3, my wife and I immediately and happily went for Trump.

So, what has Trump accomplished for our cause?

He became the first president to take money away from Planned Parenthood. He did this by hiring passionate pro-lifers all over the Department of Health and Human Services where the change to Title X grantmaking was made.

He expanded the so-called Mexico City Policy from a relatively small part of the federal budget to the entire foreign health budget of the government.

His UN negotiators now have a policy to oppose the insertion of “reproductive health” in any UN document. George Bush never even thought of this.

And he has appointed judges and justices who very well could overturn the abortion regime at the Supreme Court. We were called fools for believing he was serious about the list of proposed justices he announced that May.

Putting Trump aside, has the GOP been perfect on the pro-life cause? Far from it. Many in the GOP do not support our cause. We know that. We are not the fools and rubes Gobry and Camosy take us for.

On the other hand, the GOP has passed hundreds of laws around the country that have had the effect of reducing abortions and even closing abortion clinics. The pro-life movement has made it de rigueur for GOP candidates for public office and especially the presidency to at least mouth the pro-life cause. You cannot be a candidate for president without at least claiming to be pro-life.

More than anything, the pro-life movement and the GOP have kept the abortion issue on the boil in our politics. With apologies to my pro-life French friends, abortion is largely a non-issue in Gobry’s country.

The GOP is the only viable vehicle for the pro-life cause. The Domenech-Gobry-Camosy third party would have the effect of turning over government at all levels not to a Party of Life, but to the Party of Death—the Democratic Party.

I wonder when the Smart Set will admit they were wrong?

(Photo credit: March for Life, 2018; Jonah McKeown / CNA)


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