The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, September 18, 2023

It’s Monday, September 18, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Donald Trump and Abortion: ‘Meet the Press’ Interview Reveals a Big Step Back from Pro-life Position

With the 2024 presidential election before us, there is, on the one hand, a very clear picture we are now facing when it comes to big moral issues like abortion. The big picture is this: the Democratic Party and its most likely nominee, incumbent President Joe Biden, not only have moved far to the left on the issue of abortion rights, but they intend to run on that. Even major media reports in the last several days indicate that the White House and the Biden campaign are basically saying, “It’s full speed ahead. They believe that abortion rights are a winning issue.”

Now, as we have noted over the course of the last several election cycles, the Democratic Party has moved so decidedly in a pro-abortion direction that it now is, in truth, basically for abortion without any meaningful legal restrictions. They don’t want to say that. We covered just a few days ago Vice President Kamala Harris trying to evade the question, but you’ll notice she never did come up with any acceptable limit, that is to say, a limit, a time, a week after which abortion could not be obtained. The Democrats are posing as just wanting to go back and reestablish Roe v. Wade from a pro-life perspective. That’s horrifying, but that’s not even their real position. Their real position is, no meaningful restriction on abortion whatsoever. Not only that, they want to press for federal funding of abortion. Not only that, they basically want to shut down all anti-abortion or pro-life legislation. For that matter, in cultural conversation, they see this as a make-or-break moment.

That is the Democratic side. What about the Republican side? Ever since 1980, the 1980 presidential election cycle, there has been some form of a pro-life plank in the Republican platform carried by the Republican presidential candidate. In 1980, of course, that was former California governor Ronald Reagan, who, by the way, as California governor, had signed into law one of the most liberal abortion laws in American history. But he later came to regret that, even publicly to repent of that, and he became a great advocate for the unborn, and he helped to move the Republican Party into the position of holding to a pro-life plank as an essential part of the party’s identity.

Then you just go back to the 2016 election, and by then everything was pretty much clarified. The agent, honestly, for clarifying this in many ways, was the then-Republican nominee for President Donald Trump in a debate against the then-Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In that debate, Mr. Trump, rather surprisingly but very clearly, called out the Democratic nominee and the Democratic Party for holding to an extreme position on abortion. The reality is, you just had to look at the face of Hillary Clinton to recognize she had been nailed on this issue. At that point, most persons considered Donald Trump a pro-life candidate, which was something of an anomaly said in the context of an even bigger paradox.

During most of his adult life, Donald Trump had been anything but a family value symbol. Of course, in 2016, scandals and other issues continued to remind voters that Donald Trump had been, by his own estimation, pro-choice. Indeed, at one point he said he’s extremely pro-choice, but it was also clear that in running for the 2016 Republican nomination and in running for president, he was making very clear pro-life statements. Of course, history will record that, as President of the United States, Donald Trump made not one, not two, but three nominations to the United States Supreme Court, and that was absolutely necessary in order to create a conservative majority that would overrule the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. That 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was reversed in the Dobbs decision in June 2022.

So that took some time. President Trump was elected in 2016. The Roe v. Wade decision had been handed down in 1973. Pro-lifers had been working for generations to get Roe v. Wade struck down, and in one sense, to get the question returned to the states. That was an immediate or proximate goal, but to be able to defend unborn life and, of course, with national initiatives as well. But nonetheless, no one was underestimating the challenge. Donald Trump deserves credit as President of the United States for those three nominations to the Supreme Court and, frankly, for taking executive actions that were very consistent with the pro-life movement and its goals.

But now we’re looking at the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination. As I began today, there’s no question where the Democrats are going to land. The question is, how honestly are they going to make their position known? How honestly will they defend it in public? They’re saying, “We just want to return to Roe v. Wade.” That is not true. Indeed. I’ll say it even more strongly. That is a lie. I think that lie is going to become very apparent. But on the Republican side, you have candidates such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has just signed a six-week ban. That is a ban on abortions after six weeks. You have open initiatives at both the state and the federal level. Now, at some point, we’ll discuss the distinction between the two and why that’s so important. But at 15 weeks, there are many Republicans who are pressing for that, not as a final step but as an incremental step to limit abortion in the United States nationwide. Then you have Donald Trump.

Now, Donald Trump ran as the Republican nominee in 2016 and in 2020, very clearly on the reputation of being a pro-life candidate. Where are we now? Just in terms of the numbers, he’s far ahead of everyone else. At least according to the polls, he is by leaps and bounds the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. But where are we on the issue of abortion? The former president has been sending decidedly mixed signals, and as of yesterday, I think we can say the signals really aren’t mixed. They’re becoming increasingly clear and increasingly troubling.

Over the course of the last several weeks and months, the former president’s been making some suggestive statements, but suggestive statements can be read one way or another, concrete statements or something else, and the concrete statements that come more recently, most importantly, they came yesterday. They came on NBC’s longstanding television program. It claims to be the longest-running television program in history, Meet the Press. On Meet the Press, the very first week that new anchor Kristen Welker is in that role, she scored a big interview with the former president. By the way, she told her audience she was seeking an interview with the incumbent president, but that had not been worked out yet. In any event, Donald Trump showed up as the former President of the United States and current presidential candidate for what would be a hard-hitting interview with Kristen Welker. The issue of abortion was certain to come up.

The former president had to know it was going to come up. He actually appeared ready for it to come up, but his answers from a pro-life perspective are incredibly troubling. Now, I want to be clear just in the beginning, this is not Joe Biden. This is not the Democratic platform. This is light years from Joe Biden and the Democratic platform. But this is also a great distance from where a consistent pro-life position should be. When Kristen Welker raised the issue of abortion, the former president responded, taking credit for the Dobbs decision and for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which he said many people, quote, “including Democrats,” had wanted. That’s not really true. The Democratic Party were rather unified in support of abortion and in support of Roe v Wade. But nonetheless, that wasn’t the most troubling statement the former president made. He was very clear, by the way, in pressing the case that the Democrats really are for abortion without restrictions, period, all the way through the term of a pregnancy. He even made a statement about abortion after a baby was born.

Kristen Welker acted like that was a ridiculous statement, and there is no jurisdiction in which that defined just that way is legal. But we do need to remember that that is only because of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that was passed by Congress. In other words, without that ban, a form of abortion in which the baby was born alive was taking place in the United States. The other issue–and here’s where the former president scored a point–he pointed out that the former governor of Virginia, who was himself a medical doctor, had spoken of abortion rights even after birth. That was later retracted, but to state the issue clearly, the cat was out of the bag.

Now, I’ll just say, as someone who’s done a lot of interviews, interviewing Donald Trump would have to be an enormous challenge because his approach is simply to take whatever question he’s asked and turn it into whatever direction he wants. That has turned out to be a recipe for success for him in the media, but keeping him on topic, that’s a challenge for anyone. Keeping himself on topic seems to be a challenge sometimes for the former president, and maybe that’s a strategy. Maybe that’s not a bug. That’s a feature of the way he understands the media.

But in this discussion on the NBC program yesterday, Donald Trump made this statement. He said, “I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable.” He went on to say, by his view, right now the Democrats are the radicals. But he also made very clear statements on NBC yesterday that, “I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something and we’d end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years. I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t.” He said, and by that he meant sign a particular bill or piece of legislation or sign on to a policy with a specific date or number of weeks.

But then he went on and he criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban. He actually referred to that as terrible, “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” Now, That’s a very interesting statement. It’s a very troubling statement because this is exactly what pro-lifers are striving for. Indeed, pro-lifers must logically, theologically, consistently defend the sanctity of human life in the moment of fertilization until natural death. But incrementally pressing back is one of the ways you help to move the public on this issue. Legislation also has a teaching role as well as a restrictive role. I’m going to applaud Governor DeSantis for signing that bill in Florida’s legislature, for taking it to the governor. Let’s just state the obvious, before that bill, Florida’s access to abortion was much more liberal than it would be under this bill.

So pro-lifers would have to see the governor signing this bill as a very good thing, not sufficient, but a step at least in the right direction. The former president, former President Trump, condemned the action as terrible, a terrible thing, and a terrible mistake. Now, I said that sentence is really important because I think what we have there is what in gambling they call a tell; the former president revealed something there, and that is the combination of those two statements, “What he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” So those are two different things, a terrible thing and a terrible mistake. I want to say, if I think of the two things, clearly the tell is that the president is more concerned about the second than the first. I don’t know if he really thinks that Governor DeSantis signing that bill was a terrible thing, or even that the bill’s a terrible thing. He does see it as a terrible mistake. That’s where we need to understand what’s going on.

The former president there clearly revealed something about his thinking, and it’s been becoming more and more apparent over the course of the last, say, two years. The former president’s been gearing up for a run. As he’s been gearing up, he clearly has understood, especially after the Dobbs decision and the response to the Dobbs decision, he understands that the terrain on abortion is very different than it might’ve been back in 2016. Indeed, polling and surveys, I think even recent voter actions, would indicate that the former president is right about that, but that doesn’t mean he’s right on the issue. I believe he’s profoundly wrong on the issue. I don’t think we, as pro-life Americans, as Christians concerned for the sanctity of human life, have the right to make political calculations in order to say, “We’re going to retreat on the abortion issue, because right now, to press forward would be a political mistake.”

Now, why do we think the former president is thinking that way? It’s because he said it out loud, “Every once in a while, you need to understand, in politics, politicians actually say what they mean.” And you see this usually in a context in which they have to double down. This also explains previous statements, previous actions. That’s what took place when you look at the NBC interview on Meet the Press and then look backwards. For instance, a headline in the recent media having to do with the former president giving advice to Tudor Dixon, who was the Republican nominee for governor in Michigan in the last election cycle.

She was defeated by the Democratic candidate, the incumbent governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and by a very significant margin. Both Donald Trump and Tudor Dixon, in retrospect, said that Dixon’s approach to an abortion ban and to defending unborn life without exceptions, that that was one of the causes for her electoral defeat. So the former president, at least according to news reports, had advised Tudor Dixon to soften her approach during the race, and then at least apparently they’re both in agreement after her defeat that that was a part of it.

Similarly, recent news reports have said that Donald Trump has been saying to other Republicans that Republicans need to re-message on this issue and to back off the abortion issue, and in particular, to back off of two things, a national ban on abortion or a restriction on abortion and also restrictions on abortion that won’t be politically palatable, and here’s something very important and we’ll come back to this, that would mean in at least the third trimester or well along in a pregnancy. Then he went on to say that Republicans should acknowledge exceptions to the law, and that would include rape, incest, the physical and emotional life of the mother, especially rape and incest.

You look at this and you recognize, “Part of that’s a political calculation.” But there’s a little bit more going on there because one of the things the former president seemed to indicate, and this is where pro-lifers, Christians concerned with the sanctity and dignity of human life, we need to listen really carefully. The former president in the interview on Meet the Press yesterday, spoke of when an unborn baby looks like a baby. That is to say, he used language about the fact that there, at that point, you’ve got a baby. Of course, we understand, you have a baby at fertilization, you have a baby at conception, you have a baby at the beginning.

Here’s what we understand, let me just say I don’t think the former president is wrong in his assessment of the American people right now. I believe he’s wrong in his prescription for where a presidential candidate and the Republican Party should go on this issue because I’m going to make this statement very clearly, if the Republican Party loses its pro-life convictions, if indeed they are convictions, if it hesitates or compromises on pro-life policy, I think you’re going to see conservative Christians just back out of support for the Republican Party. This is a sine qua non. Just ask Ronald Reagan in 1980.

If you put that all together, by the way, and go back to that debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, I think most Americans saw outrage in the face of Donald Trump, at the time, later President Trump. I think most Americans thought, “That outrage is actually justified.” But we need to understand that outrage was contextualized in a situation in which we were talking about late-term pregnancy. When a baby looks like a baby. I’m not saying President Trump is wrong to be morally revulsed by the idea of a late-term abortion. No, he’s right. He’s absolutely right. The problem is that our moral revulsion can’t begin when a baby, in the language of some, looks like a baby in the womb. We have to go back before the baby looks like a baby in the womb.

By the way, when does a baby look like a baby? That’s just an interesting pragmatic question I want to ask. If you’re looking at, say, human beings asking and answering that question in the 1950s, there wouldn’t have been much evidence to go on other than expelled fetuses. But now we have all the evidence coming from the scans that are done, the imaging that is done. Not only that, going back to pioneering photographic work from the 1960s and ’70s, we now can watch the gestation of a human baby from the fertilization of the egg all the way until the moment of birth, and here’s where theologically Christians have to say from that initial point when there is the fertilization and God says, “Let there be life.” We actually are talking about a baby. That means that we understand the baby to be theologically and biblically defined before the baby is visually defined.

Part II

The Two Big Issues for Conservatives on the Ballot in 2024: Watch the Conservative Debate over Abortion and LGBTQ Issues

Where’s all this going? It’s not just the issue of abortion, but I will say this, I think for most conservative Christians in the United States of America, it does start with abortion. If there is another issue that is right out there with abortion, it is confusion over sexuality and gender, the transgender, LGBTQ revolution. The headline came on Saturday in the New York Times, “Trump and DeSantis making plays for support of social conservatives.” Shane Goldmacher was making the report that the former president and the Florida governor both were making repeat appearances in at least one case to the same audience looking for the votes of social conservatives. That means overwhelmingly, let’s be honest, Christian conservatives, not exclusively Christian conservatives, but the vast mainstream of social, moral conservatism in the United States is pretty deeply rooted in a form of Christianity.

But my point in raising this is to say that the LGBTQ issues are right up there. They weren’t there in the same way in 1980 because they weren’t a part of the public conversation. It wasn’t imaginable at that time in 1980. But here we are, and those two groupings of issues, the pro-life issue and the LGBTQ, sexuality, gender, marriage issues, they’re all basically now front and center for American evangelical Christians and not just for evangelicals. One of the most interesting things coming along in other research we’re going to talk about in coming days on The Briefing is that it turns out that the vast majority of mainline Protestants, even more liberal Protestants, aren’t going along with the LGBTQ revolution, certainly on the transgender and non-binary issue either, but we’ll wait for that conversation. Now, we’re coming back to the Republican Party, the race for the 2024 Republican nomination, and that’s where the transgender issue comes up again, and at the center of this headline is once again former President Donald Trump. This race is yet another issue when it comes to the former president.

I want to read the former president’s statements carefully, and they were reported to Newsweek magazine. The headline, “Trump Sparks Conservative Fury With Transgender Question Response.” In this case, the interviewer wasn’t Kristen Welker, but Megyn Kelly. Megyn Kelly asked questions about the transgender revolution on her SiriusXM podcast, The Megyn Kelly Show. In the case of the controversy over the president’s response to the question on transgender identity by Megyn Kelly, the controversy isn’t over what the president said. The controversy is over the fact that the President said basically nothing when he was pressed for the answer to a question as to whether or not a man could, “become a woman.” As Newsweek’s Thomas Kika said, “Trump gave a hesitant and slightly evasive answer that raised the ire of several conservatives online.” This has been an issue of some concern, some pressing concern, for conservatives for a very long time when it comes to the former president.

Again, the former President’s position is certainly not, at least as we can understand it, anywhere near as liberal as the position of President Biden in the Democratic Party. But on the other hand, it’s not conservative either. In this case, back in 2016, with reference to the individual identified as transgender Republican, Caitlyn Jenner, that would be the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner now presenting as Caitlyn Jenner, the former president had said then when running for office that he would allow Jenner to use the women’s restrooms at Trump Tower.

So we’re talking about a biological male, and the then-presidential candidate said he would allow the person now known as Caitlyn Jenner to use the women’s bathroom. Now, Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman. That’s just something we have to say out loud to ourselves and be willing to say in public, and Caitlyn Jenner nonetheless is a celebrity, and the former President of the United States sees himself as a celebrity, as a cultivator of celebrity, and is a friend of celebrity.

In this case, the former president seems to accept the claim made by Jenner that Jenner is a woman rather than a man, right down to the bathroom in Trump Tower. Megyn Kelly’s question was very clear, asking whether a man could, “become a woman.” The former president did not give any clear answer. Let’s just be really clear that, biblically, we know the clear answer. The answer is no. A man cannot become a woman. We may one day go to jail for making that statement. We’re going to have to be willing to do so.

In fairness to the former president, I’m going to read his exact statement from the transcript in answering the question, or actually not answering the question, whether a man could become a woman. The former president said: “In my opinion, I think part of it is birth. Can a man give birth? No, although they’ll come up with some answer to that. Also, I heard just the other day they have a way that now the man can give birth. No, I would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll continue my stance on that.'”

Now, actually, there is no technology by which a man can give birth. But there’s also, just to be fair and honest, I think, no way to make that statement coherent. Once again, in fairness to the former president, he said that he would stand by his policies, and once again, I want to say, in fairness, his policies were and presumably would be light years from that of the Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration. We just need to track these issues very accurately, seek above all things to think consistently according to a biblical worldview, and try to understand all these swirling and controversial headlines around us, seeking actual words to understand actual arguments and to understand the actual consequences of policies once someone is elected President of the United States in November of 2024.

Part III

Will President Joe Biden Face Hard Interviews on the Big Issues of Our Day? He Can’t Be Allowed a Pass on Answering Questions

But in ending today’s Briefing on this issue, I think it’s the most consequential issue or set of issues we could discuss on this Monday of this week on The Briefing. I also want to say that it was rather significant that Donald Trump gave this interview to Kristen Welker on the very first day, in which she was the anchor of that legendary NBC program, Meet the Press. As I said some time ago, Kristen Welker indicated that she had invited the incumbent president and front-runner, of course, for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden, to accept the same interview. Kristen Welker was very pointed and, I would say, journalistically very well prepared for her interview with former President Trump. The question is, will the Democratic president and the Democratic presidential candidate for 2024 be one and the same man, Joe Biden? Will he put himself in the position of having to answer that kind of question under that kind of fire?

Another interesting tell came in the midst of the conversation that Kristen Welker then anchored among other observers on the NBC program. She made clear, Peter Baker was one of the guests on the program, he made reference to this too, that is, that NBC had taped the interview and then spliced it together, put it together in a way that I’m sure they would claim was fair to the former president, and at this point, we’ve heard no complaint from the former president about it, but the point is, it was taped and then it was cut. It’s going to be very interesting to see what the rules would be when NBC or if NBC ever has the opportunity to present the same kind of interview with the incumbent President of the United States, who seems increasingly, if not unwilling, unable to deal with questions of this kind of intensity.

Let’s be honest as we close, the 2024 presidential election is going to be an incredible worldview test for us all. I think we’re at least more likely to be faithful if we seek, day by day, week by week, issue by issue, to follow these things through and do our dead-level best to think biblically.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today, I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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