WASHINGTON — To hear President Trump address the country’s premier anti-abortion event, you’d hardly recall this same president has racked up an astonishing string of personal sex scandals, including even criminal investigations of hush-money payments to multiple women that remain unresolved.
But when Trump became the first U.S. president to ever personally appear at the March for Life on Friday in downtown Washington, none of that mattered.
Trump rolled up, and said everything they wanted to hear. And the crowd of thousands went nuts for it.
“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from god,” Trump said. “When we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of god’s creation.”
For many of Trump’s evangelical and Catholic supporters, his full-throated endorsement of the March for Life movement is the thing that makes his long, long history of personal peccadillos, divorces, affairs, ungodliness, lies, and sex scandals — never mind that he once identified as pro-choice — fade into the distant background. Trump announced his historic decision to attend the event in a surprise Tweet on Wednesday, the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And when he hit the stage, he didn’t disappoint.
The crowd roared whenever Trump name-checked anti-abortion groups like Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that’s been in a years-long legal battle over the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. That’s the signature healthcare policy of Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
His appearance was scripted, yet he came off more comfortable than he sometimes looks when reading from a teleprompter. He didn’t curse. He didn’t use schoolyard taunts. He spoke the language of the true believers.
“We see the splendor that radiates from each human soul,” Trump told the crowd. “As the Bible tells us, each person is wonderfully made.”
Viewers watching on cable news could see a split-screen image of Trump waxing lyrical about defending the unborn, while House Democrats held a press conference to accuse Trump of stomping on the Constitution by pressuring a foreign country, Ukraine, to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden. Nearby, on Capitol Hill, Trump’s Senate impeachment trial over the Ukraine scandal kicked off again moments after he finished speaking.
But at the rally, attendees heard Trump boast that “unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.”
That particular boast rang true to many of his listeners, including Olivia Duesenberg, a 21-year-old student at Colorado Christian University and a faithful evangelical.
Strong Christian faith and support for the anti-abortion movement represent “the most important thing” Duesenberg looks for in a candidate, she told VICE News.
“He gets a lot of flack for saying the stupid things that he does,” Duesenberg said of President Trump. “But in all honesty, he’s done a lot for the economy. He’s done a lot for business. And he’s done a lot for the pro-life movement.”
Asked if Trump’s tweets bother her, Duesenberg replied: “Absolutely.”
But he’s done plenty to help the movement. Besides appointing two conservative Supreme Court justices, which helps ensure the high court’s rightward majority for perhaps a generation, he’s also appointed more than a quarter of the country’s federal appeals judges.
On the funding front, he’s blocked abortion providers from participating in Title X, the only federal program dedicated to family planning. That’s forced Planned Parenthood out of the program, costing the reproductive healthcare giant — the anti-abortion movement’s biggest boogeyman — an estimated tens of millions of dollars.
James Griffith, 19, said he doesn’t necessarily believe reports of Trump’s bad behavior anyway.
“I think we can all agree that some of the media is very slanted,” said Griffith, who came to the march with his church. “You don’t know [if] what you heard is true about him either, and what he may have done and what he hasn’t. So I’m in full support of him.”
And as long as Trump opposes abortion, Griffith said: “He’s got my vote just on that.”
Cover: Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks during the annual “March for Life” rally on the National Mall, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)