“There’s no distinction,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “[Trump] has laid bare Republican positions ... they might use more careful, calculated language, but that’s where they are.”
Proponents of that idea do have a point. For one, there’s the most recent and obvious way Republican leaders have tacitly accepted Trump’s past and present behavior. The leak of the 2005 video footage was followed by a New York Times article in which two women alleged sexual assault against the candidate. This led to a number of other allegations against him, and since this time he has insulted the physicality of some of these accusers and threatened legal action. In light of the scandal, Republicans have widely criticized Trump, but a troubling amount of hesitation remains among the party’s leading officials. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, have repudiated his comments, but have not formally withdrawn their endorsements.
The concerns over Trump and the GOP are policy-driven too: The activists draw a line between Trump’s political interests and those of other conservatives. During Wednesday’s final presidential debate, Trump did not explicitly state his desire to have the landmark Roe v. Wade decision overturned—much to the dismay of many pro-life conservatives. He did, however, express plans to appoint a Supreme Court justice who would overturn the decision “automatically.” If the court does make that determination, Trump said, then abortion regulations would be left to the discretion of individual states.
But state abortion regulations have not been helpful for women seeking to have the procedure, said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. The track record of Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence is just one example, she added. The state of Indiana had strict abortion policies—that resulted in the arrests of women for feticide—before Pence became governor in 2013. But in March of this year, he signed a bill that sought to enact further abortion restrictions statewide until a federal judge blocked the measure in June. According to a New York Times report about the law’s stipulations:
In addition to holding doctors liable if a woman has an abortion solely because of objections to the fetus’s race, sex or a disability, like Down syndrome, the law restricts fetal tissue donation and requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital or to have an agreement with a doctor who does.
Beyond abortion, Trump has aligned with other conservative positions. Before his demands for a U.S.-Mexico wall, other Republican officials campaigned for a more concrete boundary. Senator John McCain released an ad in 2010 where he asked law enforcement to “complete the danged fence” along the Mexico border. And Trump’s calls for a system of “law and order” in the wake of protests against police brutality mirror President Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign with a “law and order” platform—which helped to drive criminal justice efforts that disproportionately criminalized communities of color.