One of the most defining accomplishments of Trump’s presidency materialized after his departure from office, when his three appointed justices to the Supreme Court assisted in deciding the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which overturned Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion rights groups and most Republicans celebrated the decision, and Trump claims credit for it.
This is something the Democratic Party finds it can agree with Trump on, also pinning sole blame for Roe’s reversal on the former president.
“The Dobbs decision was a political version of the dog catching the car and then having no idea what to do next,” Republican strategist Doug Heye said.
This sentiment was shared by fellow GOP strategist Chip Felkel, who went a bit further. He described abortion in today’s political climate as “the dog who finally catches the car and then gets run over by it.”
Felkel noted that “many on the right” were not supportive of the Dobbs decision, “knowing the extreme positions likely to be passed in Republican-dominated legislatures.”
“They were right. The overturn of Roe has served as a rallying cry on the Left,” Felkel explained, adding that many voters, including a significant portion of women, are “questioning the role of government in their personal lives.”
The prominence of abortion rights in 2024 was foreshadowed in the 2023 off-year statewide elections, during which Democratic candidates over-performed. Abortion was credited for many Democratic wins, most definitively in the Ohio ballot question, in which voters approved the enshrining of the right to abortion into the state’s constitution.
After the elections, Kentucky-based Republican strategist Scott Jennings claimed a restrictive abortion trigger law with no exceptions for rape or incest was responsible for GOP gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron’s demise in the state.
“Exceptions are important to people,” Jennings said. “Even people who consider themselves to be strongly pro-life generally want the exceptions.”
Once Roe was overturned, “state legislatures were legislating out loud on this issue,” Heye said. And “in an age where all politics are national, it’s easy to define any restrictions by the most extreme example out there.” He said this meant a 15-week limit in Virginia was defined by “a strict 6-week ban in South Carolina.”
Trump, despite efforts to remain vague on abortion, has ties to Roe’s overturn that Democrats will use against him in the general election.
After the 2023 results, Matt Dallek, a professor of political management at George Washington University, explained that Trump “really is the author of and the finisher of the end of Roe v. Wade.”
Although his Supreme Court appointments and the eventual overturn of Roe are often touted as “his greatest achievement” by social conservatives in particular, Dallek said “it’s an albatross as well” because it has proven to be such a significant motivator for Democratic and independent voters.
“Donald Trump deserves all the credit for overturning Roe and for the bans on abortion that have followed across the country,” Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said. Both advocates and opponents of abortion rights will use Trump as a sticking point, and he said that “voters are going to get to decide which side is right,” which he said “should be very scary for Trump.”
Todd Belt, director of the political management master’s program at George Washington University, said he fully expects there will be “many advertisements showing Trump taking credit for appointing the justices that helped to overturn Roe.”
One Biden campaign aide confirmed to the Washington Examiner its plans to do just that. The campaign will continue wielding abortion against Trump during both the primary and general elections, the aide said, in the likely case he is the Republican nominee. Campaign officials plan to use the former president’s own words in ad campaigns, showing voters the various times he has taken credit for Roe’s reversal. The aide believes that strategy will prevent Trump from distancing himself from abortion and appeal to women across the political spectrum.
However, Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, suggested abortion may not play as big of a role in the presidential election as it did in state elections.
“When abortion is not the only issue, we’ve seen governors who signed restrictive legislation win reelection with substantial margins, in Georgia, Ohio, Florida, for example,” Franklin said.
In 2024, Franklin said that “there will be many other issues, and abortion will be just one.”
Franklin added that while it is “a top issue for Democrats and the most pro-choice people,” that is not the case among independents or Republicans.
Trump has been more particular in his statements on abortion during the primary campaign cycle, and Franklin said that if he continues to be ambiguous on the subject, Republicans and independents might pay less attention to it.
Abortion has been “highly mobilizing” for Democrats and something of a wedge issue among Republicans, Belt said, leading to fractures within the party.
“This means that Democrats can use it to stimulate enthusiasm for people to vote, which will have a spillover effect for Biden at a time when enthusiasm for him as a candidate is low,” Belt said.
But not everyone is sure abortion will be what defines 2024.
“Trump is more moderate than the rest of the GOP on this issue,” Republican strategist John Feehery noted, referring to his comments on the campaign trail. He suggested Biden may focus more on “Trump’s threat to democracy,” which he said “seems to move independent voters more.”
Biden and Trump appear to be in a dead heat, with each of the men leading several polls. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Trump leads Biden, 46.5% to 45.2%.