Why Is Donald Trump Making News on Abortion?

Stream of consciousness does not bode well for the presidency.

Donald Trump said if abortions were to be illegal, then women who have them should face "some form of punishment."

Trump is way off message. He doesn't get enough sleep. He doesn't know the issues. He doesn't try to learn about them. And his campaign team won't stand up to him.

Damage control is no longer a rarity in the Trump camp. Ominously, it is almost daily. That is not the sign of a maturing campaign, but one in trouble. This is no longer Trump saying something impolitic or politically incorrect, as he did last year. Now he is just saying things that are off, in every way. Among his stalwarts, he can seemingly do no wrong. But there is a cumulative effect and a seismic blunder can bring other problems to the surface.

There is a reason why Trump is putting his foot (presumably it is large) in his mouth. Trump is not stupid, bigoted, evil, or a fascist. He is uninformed and impulsive. And he has shown little interest in coming up to speed or becoming more disciplined. Stream of consciousness does not bode well for the presidency.

And following Trump's abortion dialogue with MSNBC's loudmouth Chris Matthews, one time aide to the gregarious House Speaker Tip O'Neill, the Trumpsters are in lockstep defense of The Donald. Meanwhile, Republicans are now preoccupied with their mistake-prone frontrunner, instead of focusing on President Barack Obama's failed policies and Hillary Clinton's campaign for a third Obama term.

Consider former U.S. Senator Scott Brown, who has endorsed Donald Trump. As a Trump surrogate he takes the customary line. "I've taken exception to..." "I would not have said it that way..." Or a similar reaction to, for example, Trump's derision of Heidi Cruz, wife of his principal competitor Ted Cruz. "But" - there always is a but: someone or something other than Donald Trump is blamed for the controversy. We should have a double standard, we are told, one for politicians who know what all this is about, and a lower standard for Donald Trump, who is "new to this." This is a tired explanation, because "new" was last year.

"Be fair, was asked if it was ILLEGAL should there be punishment. Shouldn't there be consequences for breaking laws?" tweeted Donald Trump Jr., soon after the Matthews interview with his father. The candidate's son also does not understand what pro-life is all about. Nor does he understand Campaign 101: candidates do not answer hypotheticals, as Trump's advisers would have explained to him, if he had advisers. No one around Trump has the gravitas or the courage to brief the candidate who lacks patience and is dismissive. Trump has a strong and decisive team in his business; he has sycophants in his campaign. This is hardly auspicious for how he might staff the White House and the Executive Branch.

After the Matthews clip was released, Trump's campaign released this statement, that only made things worse: "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination, Like Ronald Reagan I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times." Did Trump mean each state should punish the women? What did Ronald Reagan have to do with this? Eventually his campaign released a second statement, more pertinent ("the woman is the victim") but raising the specter of federal legislation to outlaw abortion, thus contradicting Trump's position a couple of hours earlier that it was a state matter.

There are, in any campaign year, esoteric and obscure issues, but abortion is not one of them. Even if you accept Mr. Trump's word that he is a convert to the pro-life cause, then he surely has not read what pro-lifers believe or reviewed a Q&A. Nor has anyone explained to him the basics: "Punishing the woman" is not about a subtle or nuanced triviality. Even the most ardent pro-life advocate never talks "punishment" for the woman; more importantly, the pro-life folks don't see the woman as a criminal.

Trump's assorted talking heads blamed Chris Matthews. Blaming reporters or interviewers is standard operating procedure for Trump and his campaign. But the Matthews question was not "got-cha"; it was vintage Matthews spur-of-the-moment. He threw the dice and won. All Trump had to do was take a deep breadth and say he's for returning the matter to the states and could not imagine what Matthews is thinking when he mentions something as preposterous as punishing the woman. Trump generally is unprepared.

At best, Trump does not understand the pro-life position. Mark Thiessen is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. To Trump's defenders, Thiessen is either an esoteric wordsmith or an Establishment Hack, or both. Words mean something, says Thiessen. He believes Trump hurt the pro-life cause with his talk of punishing women. That's because, in his view, Trump played to a caricature of what pro-life is about. The abortion movement has promoted this caricature that Trump now escalated.

Hillary Clinton jumped on all this (Trump's "outrageous and dangerous statement"), as part of her genericad hominem attack on, as she scornfully says, "the Republicans." "Donald Trump wants to punish women for making their health care decisions," she shrieked and wrote in her latest fundraising appeal.

Donald Trump is making news on abortion. That's not good for him. It's not good for, as Hillary would say, "the Republicans."

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