Donald Trump is learning how hard it is to pretend to be something he’s not.
Case in point: Since deciding to run for president – and maybe before, but who knows? – Trump has insisted he is pro-life. America learned otherwise with his recent remarks that a woman should be punished were she to have an illegal abortion. Since abortion is legal, this is a circumstance that doesn’t exist, otherwise known as a hypothetical query.
When MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Trump whether a woman should be punished, the question wasn’t hard even if it was irrelevant.
Abortion has been legal for 43 years and, though many Americans would be comfortable with limits, the law isn’t likely to be overturned. That is, unless a Republican president remakes the Supreme Court, which, speaking of hypotheticals, could happen.
With possibly four seats, including recently deceased Antonin Scalia’s, to fill in the next presidential term, a pro-life president such as Trump pretends he would be, might choose pro-life justices and, voila, Roe v. Wade could conceivably be overturned.
Conceivably. Possibly. Potentially. But probably not.
This scenario was what Matthews was trying to explore with Trump, who, apparently, had never given any serious thought to how a Trump presidency might act or what the repercussions might look like. His answer betrayed a shallow consciousness.
Yes, he said, there should be some punishment for a woman who has an abortion if the procedure became illegal. And, no, he said, men (as in the father of the unborn child) should not face any punishment.
Spoken like a true generic numbskull, not to mention an ayatollah.
Note to Trump: I know it’s slow reading that brand new Bible, but please do skip ahead to the New Testament.
If Trump were truly pro-life, which he apparently isn’t, given his lack of understanding of the pro-life movement to end abortion, no one in that world talks about punishing women. Even the craziest “pro-lifer” trains his fury on doctors rather than women seeking abortion.
Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, he may well have changed his mind about abortion.
But to go from supporting partial-birth abortion, as Trump once did, to being pro-life would suggest a Road to Damascus moment rather than a casual change of mind. Yet, Trump’s professed conversion seems to have all the depth of a breakfast menu change: I used to like waffles, but now I like pancakes.
The simple answer to Matthews’ question would have been to say, as smarter presidential candidates usually do: “I’m not going to entertain hypothetical questions about circumstances that don’t exist and may never exist. But I will tell you how I came to change my mind about abortion. It truly was a life-altering experience for me, as I know it has been for so many Americans.”
Such a response would have had the added benefits of conveying a rare sincerity from Trump and also, much to the pleasure of media-haters, of making Matthews seem like an off-base bully. But a truer answer – the pro-life answer that is, in fact, part of pro-life catechism – would have gone something like this:
“Chris, let me skip the hypothetical and just say that I have nothing but compassion for women who find themselves unable to welcome a child into the world. I can only imagine how painful it must be for a woman to find herself in such a situation. This is why, as president, I would do everything in my power to help women find quality prenatal health care and other support, as well as loving homes for their babies.”
This would have so flummoxed his interviewer while pleasing his conservative constituents that Trump could have backstroked to the convention and a likely nomination. Hypothetically speaking. It would have humanized him and revealed a depth heretofore in hiding.
Instead, he had to backpedal from his remarks, as he has countless other times. His retake was that only doctors should be punished in a world he has promised to help fashion – a conclusion he reached after half the world and most women went bat-crazy.
Already unpopular beyond his base, Trump’s unfavorability rating among women has now hit 75 percent. Even among Republican women, his favorability has dropped about 25 points since last November.
One’s only conclusion: The man either can’t or won’t think before speaking. Shooting from the hip may work on reality TV, but it’s no way to run a country – or even to broker a deal, the art of which seems to have been lost on its author.
Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.