President Donald Trump on Wednesday injected abortion — one of the country’s most divisive issues — into the 2020 campaign debate, warning a conservative audience that inaction at the ballot box will erode recent anti-abortion moves.
Republicans have been celebrating a number of state-level moves to restrict access to abortion, and are hopeful that a number of legal challenges will uphold those new laws. But Trump, who rode to the White House on a conservative movement, had a message for a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington.
“This can all change very quickly,” he said. “The wrong person in office … can change it very quickly.”
He criticized a legal battle in Virginia over a law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected after a pregnancy is six weeks old. “That becomes an execution,” he said as some in the crowd jeered the Virginia policy.
Restricting abortion access is a top issue for many conservative voters, with data compiled by the Pew Research Center showing 36 percent of Republicans want it legal in some or all cases and 59 percent of GOP voters surveyed wanting it made illegal in some or all cases. (Seventy-six percent of Democrats, Pew found, think abortion should be legal in some or all cases, with 21 percent of that bloc calling for restrictions.)
Trump’s appearance at the conservative group’s conference came eight days after he formally announced his reelection campaign.
So far, the president has held campaign rallies in states and hit messages that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in an Electoral College upset three years ago.
“We are embracing the faith community. We are embracing the faith community like it hasn’t been embraced in many years,” he said to the crowd, saying before he was sworn in, the “faith community” was “under assault.”
“But that ended the day I took office,” Trump said to loud applause.
The tactic — selling his supporters they, like him, are under assault from Democrats — is yet another way his 2020 campaign already is mirroring his 2016 one. So, too, was the appearance before a far-right audience.
The president remains extremely popular with Republican voters. A recent Morning Consult poll found 85 percent of GOP voters approve of his performance as president. The same survey found among that bloc that identified as “conservative,” his approval ratings are even higher: 91 percent. And 96 percent of those who called themselves “very conservative” give him high marks.
When he declared “we are proudly defending the sanctity of life,” the anti-abortion crowd broke into a “four more years!” chant.