Republicans can't follow Trump's lead on abortion. He flip-flops too much.

Donald Trump has a long history of flip-flopping on the issue of abortion when it suits his needs.

He was at it again when he told reporters last week that he would not sign a federal abortion ban if he became president again and it came to his desk, even if Congress managed to pass such a monumental piece of legislation.

Trump’s latest comments are different from those he made as president when he vowed to “veto any legislation that weakens pro-life policies or that encourages the destruction of human life.” He also affirmed just last year that there “remains a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”

When he ran for president in 2016 and desperately needed the evangelical vote to win, he emerged as staunchly anti-abortion. Now he has softened his view on the issue to save some face among moderate voters. And he's not the only one.

He said all those things after saying he was "very pro-choice" during a 1999 NBC News interview.

I believe people can change their minds on complex issues like abortion. I would have at one point referred to myself as anti-abortion, a position I disagree with now. But Republicans have for years wanted abortion to be illegal. It has been a conservative rallying cry for generations. So why now are some Republican lawmakers trying to seem more moderate?

Is it because, like Trump, they only care about being reelected?

What do Republicans want on the issue of abortion?

Demonstrators at the March For Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2019.
Demonstrators at the March For Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2019.

When the Supreme Court correctly overturned the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 2022, many in the anti-abortion movement, including myself, viewed that decision as vital and needed in the progress of protecting life.

At the time, I knew that abortion reentering the political arena would pose significant challenges for Republicans. However, what I overlooked was the possibility that the decision would ultimately make Republicans less anti-abortion.

Republicans are losing on abortion: Did conservatives win the battle on abortion but lose the culture war on life?

If Republicans truly want to remain the anti-abortion party, they can't follow Trump’s lead on the issue.

Sadly, it seems that some are doing just that.

Republicans show willingness to compromise on abortion

Kari Lake, an Arizona Republican Senate candidate, has denounced the state's enforcement of a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban by calling the law “out of line” despite once referring to it as “a great law.” You'll remember she is a huge Trump supporter who lost her bid for the Arizona governor's chair.

She went even further over the weekend, releasing a new ad on her abortion position. Abortion "is such a personal and private issue. I chose life. But I'm not every woman," Lake said.

Her position sounds more like that of a religious Democrat than that of a serious anti-abortion candidate.

Nikkie Haley, Trump's former opposition for the Republican presidential nomination, also tried to lean into more moderate rhetoric on the issue.

“As much as I’m pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” Haley said on the campaign trail. “Let’s find consensus. ... We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore."

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., joined the more moderate messaging on abortion after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision sent the issue back to the states.

"Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion. Period," said Daines, who once co-sponsored a federal 15-week ban.

Republicans seem to have been scared out of their principles since Roe was overturned.

Republicans, enough infighting: Republicans want a functioning House. So why are they always fighting?

Now is not the time to give up this generational fight

Sure, messaging on the issue could adjust in light of public sentiment, and I think Haley's approach of "honesty" on the issue is far closer to the correct one than Trump's.

After all, no civil rights movement has ever been accomplished in one fell swoop. Incremental change is the bedrock of any movement's potential to achieve something significant in this country. However, the anti-abortion movement cannot cede ground on the ultimate end point of the issue, which is protecting life through all stages.

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Trump and other Republicans are actively giving in to the opposition, which is the first step in losing the battle. The goalposts are shifting from the eventual protection of life at all stages to the protection of life only some of the time.

If we want to make progress on protecting life, we must stay committed no matter how difficult it is to convince those who disagree with us. We cannot be willing to meet in the middle on an issue as significant as protecting human life.

We need to be vocal about our beliefs to Trump and other Republicans who are willing to push us to the back when we become inconvenient for them. Our vote must be earned.

Dace Potas is an Opinion fellow for USA TODAY. A graduate from DePaul University with a degree in political science, he's also president of the Lone Conservative, the largest conservative student-run publication in the country.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump changes his abortion stance all the time. Republicans can't