Updated Jun 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pence draws contrast with Trump on abortion decision

Illustration of Mike Pence and Donald Trump in profile facing away from each other.
Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: NurPhoto, Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

For months leading up to the Supreme Court's ruling, Mike Pence's unequivocal public and private embrace of the impending Roe decision contrasted with Donald Trump's private concerns about the political risks to Republicans if abortion rights were overturned in a midterm election year.

Why this matters: Pence is preparing to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. Abortion is one of the key policy issues on which the former vice president has sought to define himself as more unabashedly conservative than the former president.

Driving the news: On Friday, as soon as the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Pence's team was ready to be first out of the gate with an instant reaction.

  • His organization instantly released a video celebrating the decision and Pence's role in making it happen. The video recalled Pence's history fighting against abortion, long before he became vice president. Nowhere in the video is Trump mentioned by name.
  • Pence also immediately issued a statement to Breitbart News: "Today, Life Won. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has given the American people a new beginning for life, and I commend the justices in the majority for having the courage of their convictions."
  • He called for a fight to stop abortion "in every state in the land" — an effort to entirely eradicate abortion.

Trump's initial response was strikingly different. Usually eager to claim credit for himself, he told Fox News that "God made the decision," when he was asked whether he felt he played a role in the reversal of Roe v. Wade after having appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

  • In the Fox News interview, Trump said the ruling "will work out for everybody."
  • The former president later issued a written statement in which he took credit for the decision, calling it the "biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation" and "only made possible because I delivered everything as promised..."

Behind the scenes: These statements mask Trump's private doubts about the political implications of the ruling, according to sources with direct knowledge of the former president's private comments.

  • Soon after Politico published its explosive leak last month of the Supreme Court's draft decision to overturn Roe, Trump told confidants the decision could be bad for Republicans in an election year.
  • At least two other Trump advisers agreed with him that the decision could fire up Democrats in November, especially suburban women. The New York Times was first to report Trump's private comments.

Yes, but: Another reason for Trump's reluctance to praise the Supreme Court is because he's still bitterly angry at the conservative justices for refusing to take up his challenges to President Biden's 2020 election victory, according to a source with direct knowledge.

  • Trump feels he was let down when it mattered most by the three justices he appointed.
  • Trump also privately said that if he took a victory lap after the leak and before the Supreme Court finalized its decision, the justices might change their minds, the source added.
  • Trump is deeply cynical and suspicious of the courts in general and even of the Supreme Court, which he's defined more than any president since Ronald Reagan.

Don't forget: Trump's relationship with his former vice president has never been the same after Pence refused Trump's pressure to unlawfully block the 2020 Electoral College certification.

After the draft decision leaked, Trump said little about the impending abortion decision unless directly asked about it. When he did talk about it, he focused on criticizing the leak itself rather than celebrating or rooting for the prospect of the Supreme Court overturning a decision that has haunted conservatives for 50 years.

  • In an interview with the New York Times in May, Trump implausibly claimed, "I never like to take credit for anything" when asked about the central role he'd played in paving the way for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.
  • Others in Trump's orbit say the decision will be good for him in a GOP presidential primary in 2024. As the president who appointed the justices who made the decision possible, he's delivered for the GOP base in a way no previous Republican president has, and he should embrace it, they argue.
  • Trump sees that upside too. With his statement on Friday after the Supreme Court's decision, Trump appears to be finally heeding his advisers' counsel to embrace it.

The bottom line: Pence has never expressed reservations about the decision — political or otherwise.

  • While Trump favored abortion rights for most of his adult life, the former vice president has a long history of anti-abortion activism and close ties to the movement's leaders such as the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Marjorie Dannenfelser.
  • Since late last year, Pence has done numerous public events in which he's called for Roe to be overturned. He's promoted the elimination of abortion rights as one of the most important goals of the conservative movement.
  • Pence called for Roe to be overturned at the National Press Club. He prayed for it to be overturned in a Rock Hill, South Carolina, church. He's done so again and again — at the March for Life in January and a crisis pregnancy center in South Carolina in May. And he'll no doubt support Friday's Supreme Court decision relentlessly on the campaign trail in 2024 if he decides to run as an underdog against his former boss.
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