Donald Trump’s genius has always been the gift of logorrhoea; of endlessly circling a subject without ever allowing himself to be defined by its centre. He is the Great Blank Canvas onto which others project their interpretations as to what he means. It gives rise to the familiar allusion among Trump critics to the character of Chauncey Gardiner, played by Peter Sellers in the film version of Being There. Trump may be loud and vocal, yet he is substantially silent where it matters; a man to whom all views can be attributed but none entirely confirmed.

One of the ways he does this is by talking almost constantly in platitudes; a detail-free riff so familiar by now that it’s easy to imitate. [Cue breathy, low, sanctimonious voice…]

We’ve got to fix the country, folks. We’re in a bad place. We need to Make America Great Again. You might have heard people saying that. It’s not good. Not good at all. But I’ll begin to fix it on day one. I won’t say how because our enemies would love that. Not smart. And we need smart people in the White House. People who don’t tell our enemies what we’re planning. But we’re planning on doing something special. I can promise you that.

Needless to say, nothing here actually says anything of substance, but Trump rarely needs to. His shtick is all about posture, bluster, delay, and distraction. During his four years in the White House, it seemed that the Trump Infrastructure Bill was constantly imminent. Trump would promise that peace in the Middle East was just around the corner, the Wall was almost built, and that healthcare would be sorted but… just not today… He kicked so many cans down so many roads he wore out the toes of his shoes before he ever risked wearing out their soles. 

Which brings us to the peculiar thing that happened last week. After a Florida court confirmed the legality of the six-week abortion ban in the state, a reporter asked for a comment from the former president. Trump’s response was unsurprising. “We will be making a statement next week on abortion,” he said.

And anybody who follows Trump would have known not to hold their breath for that statement. Yet then the oddest thing happened. He did make a statement about abortion. And, boy! It was quite the statement.

It came on Monday in the form of a video on Truth Social. It was striking because it appeared to have been shaped by political strategy, which is somewhat at odds with how Trump usually operates.

It began with him seeking to take IVF out of the debate. “I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby” he said, which does at least distance him from those on the Christian right who have suggested that IVF and even contraception (see Clarence Thomas’s recent statements) will be next in line. 

More interesting, however, was that Trump then took full credit for overturning Roe vs Wade. This might be one of the big moments of the year or, at least, our clearest indicator that Trump isn’t intending to back away from his complicity in a decision that puts him at odds with about 70 per cent of the country. Trump can’t resist attaching his name to big-ticket items. He hates Obamacare not because he hates the policy but because President Obama’s name is attached to it. 

Hence the way he frontloads his statement with a big ego boost. It was his Supreme Court that overturned the abortion rights act. “I was proudly the person responsible for the ending of something that all legal scholars, both sides, wanted and, in fact, demanded be ended: Roe v. Wade.”

But then came the sting, certainly as far as a lot of his supporters were concerned.

“My view is now that we have abortion, where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint. The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land.”

This can be read as a tactical shift to a moderate stance, away from a position he knows will hurt him. Alternatively, this is just Trump wanting the credit but not the blame for the Supreme Court’s decision. Either way, it’s like so much of Trump’s rhetoric: capitulation wrapped in an iron glove. He’ll be tough with Putin… by handing over Ukraine. He won’t allow North Korea to threaten Japan.. so he’ll give them the photo ops no other president would afford them.

And now he’s strongly pro-Life… unless a state says otherwise. 

What is out of character, however, is that Trump has allowed himself to become defined by the position, harmed by the specificity when ambiguity usually serves him so well. To many of his supporters, the Great Blank Canvas suddenly had a smudge in the corner which they simply could not ignore. The US news networks were soon filled with anti-abortion activists expressing their shock at Trump’s announcement. On CNN, one accused him of “taking the language of the Left on this”. 

Hey! They seem to be shouting. We thought you were one of us. And now you’re talking like one of them…

Nothing about Trump’s career thus far suggests he is adroit enough to escape this dilemma, beyond the fact that the ultimate Trumpian position of all would be to flip and flop on the matter from here until the election, saying one thing to one audience and another to a different audience. 

How effective that can be is another matter. He can’t be “moderate” on abortion (the orthodox “let the states decide” GOP position), be celebrated by the MAGA faithful for causing Roe vs Wade to be overturned, but also the man who the ultra-conservatives hope will one day advocate for a national ban. Something must give and when it does give, we might yet see more votes peeling away from Trump, perhaps into the camp that is increasingly apathetic about his presidential run, or eying third-party candidates such as Robert F. Kennedy who is notionally a threat to Biden but politically shares more DNA with Trump.

What it also exposes is that Trump’s political chances continue to look as inflated as the stocks for his recently floated social media business. As an analyst over at Forbes described it this week, “The DJT stock could drop by 99 per cent and still be considered overvalued by current valuation metrics”. 

Trump’s fortunes – both political and financial – have always resembled bubbles, inherently weak, but propped up artificially by a loyal customer base so enamoured by his personality they’re happy to invest in him. This week, both he and his shares seemed particularly vulnerable as the polls continued to shift further to Biden. The latest IPSOS/Mori stretched Biden’s lead from one point to four since March. Do not be surprised if the values of Trump’s commodities continue to slide.


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