Former President Donald J. Trump acknowledged this week that Republican positions on abortion were hurting the party, but offered few details after claiming he knew how to thread the needle.
Mr. Trump’s remarks during an interview with Tudor Dixon, a conservative media personality who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan last year, are one more sign that Republicans are struggling to adjust to a political environment in which abortion is a liability rather than a vote driver for them. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the ruling created a backlash that has benefited Democrats in elections across the country.
In her interview with Mr. Trump on her podcast on Wednesday, Ms. Dixon said that the former president had advised her during her campaign for governor to “talk differently about abortion.”
“We could not pivot in time, and it really, you were absolutely right, sir,” Ms. Dixon told Mr. Trump.
“Yep, that’s what happened to you,” Mr. Trump replied. “And that’s what happened to a lot of other people and — didn’t happen to me because, you know, there’s a way of talking about it. They’re the radicals. They’re the radicals, and you have to explain it. And I think exceptions are very important. I think you need the exceptions. You and I talked about that.”
Ms. Dixon took a hard line on abortion during her campaign, expressing support for a total ban except in life-threatening emergencies. She emphasized that “health of the mother and life of the mother are two different things” — suggesting that she might not support exceptions for women whose health was at risk if their life wasn’t — and said she would not support abortion for a 14-year-old who had been raped.
“I’ve talked to those people who were the child of a rape victim and the bond that those two people made, and the fact that out of that tragedy, there was healing through that baby,” she told a local Fox station last year, adding: “Those voices, the babies of rape victims that have come forward, are very powerful. When you hear their story and what the truth is behind that, it’s very hard to not stand up for those people.”
Ms. Dixon lost to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic incumbent, by more than 10 percentage points.
How, exactly, Mr. Trump wants to approach abortion is not clear. He has been loath to talk about it on the campaign trail at all, saying he would “look at” federal legislation to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks, which many of his 2024 rivals have embraced, but making no definitive commitment. And he has generally avoided venues — such as the first Republican debate, or mainstream news interviews — where he is likely to be asked tough questions about the issue.
In his interview with Ms. Dixon, he emphasized exceptions to abortion bans, but candidates who back exceptions have not been spared from the electoral backlash, and voters have broadly supported abortion rights in referendums even in red states. His reference to Democrats as the real “radicals” mirrors language used by other Republican candidates, who often falsely accuse Democrats of supporting abortion “up until the moment of birth,” which is not a practice even in states without gestational limits.
More than 93 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 99 percent in the first half.