Plus, what happens if nobody gets 270 electoral votes?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Donald Trump released a video announcing his stance on abortion. Plus, what if nobody gets to 270 electoral votes?


We published a Friday edition introducing the entire Tangle team to our audience. It drew some really positive reviews, and we're glad we took the time to put it together. You can read it here.

Quick hits.

  1. President Biden announced a new student debt relief proposal that could cancel up to $20,000 of interest for roughly 25 million American borrowers. A previous attempt by the Biden administration to cancel student debt was rejected by the Supreme Court. (The plan)
  2. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set a date for Israel's ground invasion of Rafah, but did not disclose it. (The statement)
  3. The United States proposed a new Israel-Hamas ceasefire and hostage release deal to secure the release of 40 hostages in exchange for a ceasefire and 700 Palestinians being released from prison, including 100 convicted of killing Israelis. Hamas said it did not have 40 living hostages who met the humanitarian criteria of being women, female soldiers, men over the age of 50 or men with serious medical conditions. (The latest)
  4. A judge rejected former President Trump's attempt to delay his criminal trial in New York scheduled for April 15. (The ruling)
  5. The U.S. plans to award Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. $6.6 billion in grants and as much as $5 billion in loans to build factories in Arizona. (The deal)

Today's topic.

Trump's abortion position. On Monday, former President Donald Trump released a four-minute video announcing his position on abortion. Trump, who teased the announcement over the weekend, appeared to endorse the current state of abortion law, implying it will continue to be left up to the states in the post-Roe era while declining to endorse any national limit on abortion. In March, Trump's campaign floated a national 15-week ban.

"Many people have asked me what my position is on abortion and abortion rights," Trump said. "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 — in this case, the law of the state."

Trump, who once again took credit for the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, added that "many states will be different" and "some will be more conservative than others... At the end of the day, this is all about the will of the people.” He also said he supports exceptions to abortion restrictions in instances of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk and endorsed in vitro fertilization (IVF), praising the Alabama legislature for quickly passing bills to protect IVF after a state supreme court ruling put the procedure in legal limbo. 

The announcement, and the decision not to put forward a specific limit on abortion, highlights the political difficulties Republicans are facing on the issue. Since Roe v. Wade was struck down in 2022, Democrats who campaigned on abortion rights have won several ballot initiatives and tight races across the country. As many as 11 states are pursuing constitutional amendments to protect abortion access for 2024.

Simultaneously, many Republican politicians have seemed less willing to endorse strict federal prohibitions. For instance, four years ago, 51 Senate Republicans voted for a 20-week federal ban, according to Politico. But shortly after Roe v. Wade fell, just 10 Senate Republicans backed a 15-week federal ban.

While Trump's position received immediate endorsements from many Republicans in Congress, it also drew condemnation from pro-life politicians and anti-abortion groups. Former Vice President Mike Pence — who said he won't endorse Trump in 2024 — called the video a "slap in the face" to millions of pro-life voters. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he respectfully disagreed with Trump and believed a national ban was necessary.

"We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position," Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said. "Unborn children and their mothers deserve national protections and national advocacy from the brutality of the abortion industry. The Dobbs decision clearly allows both states and Congress to act."

Some of those groups are still holding out hope that Trump will use his executive power to limit abortion across the country if he is re-elected. Trump, though, has long pledged to find a compromise on the issue that would make both sides happy, and responded to critics like Graham and Dannenfelser by suggesting they study states’ rights and focus on helping Republicans win elections.

Today, we're going to examine some reactions to Trump's announcement from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left thinks Trump’s position on abortion will hurt him with his religious base.
  • Some say Trump is moderating his stance on the issue due to political pressure. 
  • Others suggest the media’s coverage of Trump’s comments ignores his role in scaling back abortion rights. 

In Newsweek, David Faris argued “Trump's big abortion gamble won't save him.”

“At first glance, Trump's needle-threading on this issue looks astute. Dobbs has clearly been the GOP's Achilles heel for the past two years, and Trump most certainly does not want the election to be about reproductive rights,” Faris wrote. “But publicly supporting abortion rights in the more than 20 states where the procedure remains legal could cost Trump with his most committed voters—white evangelical Christians. Eighty-four percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020, along with 57 percent of white Catholics.”

“You must therefore wonder how this group of high-propensity voters that is absolutely critical to any Republican victory this November is going to take this news. My guess is ‘not well.’... The most religious white evangelicals want total victory. And Trump just told them they won't get it,” Faris said. “Trump's struggles here are illustrative of how ‘returning abortion to the states’ did not settle the issue at all. By stocking the Supreme Court with early-middle-age religious radicals who obliterated the Roe consensus on abortion, Trump all but guaranteed that it will be front and center in our politics for the foreseeable future.”

In The Washington Post, Aaron Blake wrote about “Trump’s cynical punt on abortion.”

“Donald Trump would like you to know that he has decided not to take much of a position at all on abortion restrictions. And he would also like you to know that he is punting on this issue for transparently political reasons,” Blake said. “It’s a remarkable microcosm of just how frightened the Republican Party is of its newfound ability to restrict abortion rights, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022… Now the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee is basically trying to wash his hands of the issue.”

“Abortion rights supporters see in Trump’s comments a wink and a nod to the antiabortion movement — an implication that he’ll still do its bidding if he’s elected but that he can’t just come out and say that. And maybe so. But this is also an issue on which the formerly ‘very pro-choice’ Trump has evolved in a politically expedient way before. That suggests he might indeed toss the movement under the bus to the extent he thinks that’s the right political call. Trump’s guiding light, after all, is what’s good for Trump.”

In his Substack, Oliver Willis criticized the media for helping “abortion ban architect Trump escape blame.”

“Donald Trump is the reason Roe vs. Wade fell. There is no way around this fact,” Willis wrote. “The public has rejected this extremism, from coast to coast, in red states and blue states. Trump understands audience feedback like he understands little else, and he is trying to keep away from the blowback. The mainstream media is giving him able assistance in this by presenting his abortion about-face as if it has no context.”

“This is utter garbage, but it is at just about the right level of complicity we have come to expect from the mainstream media. It is as if a serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy made a statement opposing murder, and the media ignored the piles of bodies they racked up. Laid bare here is the media’s habit of cleaning up for Trump, presenting an image of a malevolent force in America that bears little resemblance to the man and the movement behind him. Trump is no idle observer of the strife now occurring in America under Republican efforts to restrict abortion. He is the architect.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mixed on Trump’s comments, with some calling them an insult to the pro-life movement.
  • Others frame his stance as a politically savvy move to neutralize the issue ahead of the election.
  • Still others say his comments reflect an imperfect strategy for how to message on abortion. 

In The Federalist, Jordan Boyd wrote “Trump’s mixed messaging on abortion and IVF plays right into Democrats’ electoral strategy.”

Trump’s “declaration on ‘abortion rights’ only further confirms that his once-celebrated pro-life track record doesn’t meet voters’ demands of a Republican president,” Boyd said. “In a clear attempt to absolve his campaign of what bad-faith actors have told Republican politicians is a Dobbs disconnect, Trump came out of the gate on Monday incredibly soft on abortion… Trump seems to think that because he nominated some of the justices who decided Dobbs v. Jackson, his title as the most successful pro-life president is permanently protected. He’s wrong.”

“Leaving abortion ‘up to the states’ means Trump is giving Democrats and abortion giants a free pass to target Republican strongholds with deliberately deceptive ballot measures that promise uninhibited abortion through all nine months of pregnancy,” Boyd wrote. “To fortify voters’ defenses against the infiltration of leftist radicalism, Republicans must choose their words carefully and affirm the majority of Americans’ desire to limit abortion to at least the first trimester — not just on the state level but also nationally.”

In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe Doescher said “Trump takes the centrist mantle and winning message on abortion.”

“Despite President Joe Biden positioning himself as a centrist on abortion policy throughout the 2020 election, he has repeatedly embraced the most extreme Democratic Party line throughout his presidency,” Doescher wrote. “By contrast, former President Donald Trump proudly has taken the centrist mantle on abortion policy and, thus, the winning electoral message from his 2024 opponent.”

“Trump’s stance is sure to incense the staunch social conservatives who will crawl over broken glass to reelect him president, regardless of his abortion platform. But to the disaffected independents and ‘double haters’ who dislike both candidates — they crucially favored Trump in 2016 and then Biden in 2020 — Trump’s pro-life federalism could provide a major incentive to reincorporate them into his coalition,” Doescher said. “In supporting pro-life laws for the states, Trump is adopting the legally correct abortion platform, but also the electoral winner.”

In National Review, Dan McLaughlin suggested “Trump is half-right on abortion.” 

“Trump understates the radicalism of Democrats on abortion. They want abortion to be affirmatively subsidized and promoted by the federal and state governments,” McLaughlin wrote. “The right strategy for pro-lifers now should be to protect pro-life state laws from being repealed at the state level or overridden by the federal government, and secondarily to advocate for expanding such laws in other states. Right now, the movement has its hands more than full with the first task, and Trump hasn’t helped, branding a six-week ban ‘terrible’ during the primaries.” 

“Even if Trump is now going to stick to his new re-reversal of course and stop demonizing pro-life state laws, however, just intoning ‘leave it to the states’ doesn’t answer the question of what the federal executive branch can and will do on abortion,” McLaughlin said. “A framework of ‘life is national, abortion is local,’ modeled on how the Republicans approached slavery in the 1850s, would be a better approach that allows for moral clarity while reassuring abortion supporters that the purpose of a pro-life administration is to take the federal thumb off the scales and let matters be actually decided at the state level.”

My take.

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  • Everyone’s missing that Trump didn’t say what his position is, he just described the current situation: Abortion is left up to the states.
  • Trump seems to be somewhat pro-choice, but more so willing to just take a winning stance.
  • Republicans are now following his suit, and I think it’s probably the right strategy for him in 2024.

On the one hand, there is nothing really ambiguous about Trump's position. It's actually quite simple: The states decide, and the people in the states get to vote. 

But that simple position doesn't actually tell us what Trump's view on abortion is. It tells us how Trump thinks abortion law should be enforced, which is a different question than the one many people want answered.

Indeed, many news outlets didn't accurately report on Trump's comments. The lede across the press was that Trump said abortion should be left to the states, but that isn't what he said. He said abortion will be left to the states — he made a statement of fact based on current abortion law; he did not endorse what he thinks should happen.

In that sense, stating that “the states will determine” the issue doesn’t really tell us anything about how he would act on abortion. It doesn’t even tell us what Trump would do if the Senate passed a 15-week abortion ban, a proposal his campaign endorsed earlier this year. Would he sign that bill? What if Democrats control the Senate and he is president (an admittedly unlikely combination) and a bill gets passed protecting abortion up to 24 weeks — would he sign that bill?

Voters want presidents to lead. They want them to have positions on controversial issues like abortion and then make their cases clearly to the country. 

I interpret Trump’s statement in three ways: 1) His position on abortion is probably out of step with his party. Over his decades of public life, Trump has seemed to send signals that he is more pro-choice than pro-life, at least until he became president. 2) I think he understands Democrats have a major advantage on this issue and he wants to take it off the table in 2024, and saying "the states will decide" is one path to doing that. 3) I don't think he holds a conviction on the issue strongly enough to advocate for his own view and is making a political decision. If he makes the case for strict limits on abortion, then he loses the same voters Republicans are losing in states like Ohio and Kentucky. If he makes the case for less stringent federal abortion restrictions, then he risks losing pro-life and Evangelical voters he absolutely cannot afford to lose in 2024.

Still, Trump’s position here is going to run the risk of alienating parts of his base who insist on a Republican nominee who stands firmly against legalized abortion, and if the response from pro-life groups is any indication, I don’t think this video neutralized the issue. It is commonly understood among many fervent pro-life political activists that a lot of Republicans pay lip service to the pro-life cause for votes but don’t earnestly believe in it; but in this case, Trump isn’t even saying what those groups want to hear.

Will this position work for some voters? Sure. Understanding how the political winds are blowing and taking out a position popular enough to win is one of Trump’s great gifts — he understands his audience. And I don't say that in a demeaning way. I genuinely mean it. He’s also good at framing things in a way people on both sides of an issue will be able to hear positively. There will be some independent voters with a moderate stance on abortion and some pro-life voters living in a ruby red state who watched Trump's speech yesterday and both leave satisfied — that doesn't happen if he takes a firm stance on this issue.

In the video, Trump also told voters that Republicans absolutely must win the 2024 election to "restore" their culture, and implied heavily that his position on abortion is all about winning the 2024 race. Additionally, as anyone who watched the entire video can attest, Trump used a lot of language that spoke more directly to a broad swathe of voters. While most mainstream media outlets focused on his comments about states enforcing abortion law, he also said this:

"You must follow your heart or in many cases your religion or your faith. Do what's right for your family and do what's your right for yourself. Do what's right for your children, do what's right for our country. And vote. It's so important to vote. At the end of the day it's all about the will of the people."

Some read the entire thing as a wink and a nod to the pro-life movement, “Let’s do what we can to get me elected, and then I’ll advocate on your behalf once I’m in the White House.” I think it’s true Trump is directly calling on pro-life voters to turn out for him, but I also think how he acts in the White House on this issue will be driven by the same motivations it is now: What is politically advantageous. Again, his convictions don’t seem strong enough on this issue to weigh more heavily than the politics of the issue itself. 

His statement puts a lot of Republicans in an interesting spot. For instance, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who is the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Axios that Trump's comments are reflective of the fact that "Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion." He described any suggestion that they do as "a lie you're hearing from Democrats to scare voters." That'd be news to his constituents in Montana, given that Daines was one of two co-sponsors on the 15-week abortion ban bill that Senate Republicans tried to pass in 2022.

Daines’s change in posture is a great example of the ways in which Trump still leads the party, even on issues like this. His comments are, in all likelihood, the beginning of a 2024 messaging pivot from the right — one intended to make this issue less important to swing voters in the upcoming election. The real question now is whether that shift will do more to allay the fears of those voters or to anger the pro-life right that sees an opportunity to enshrine abortion restrictions into federal law slipping away. I think the odds are better that Trump’s video helps his election prospects than hurts it, but it’ll be hard to parse its impact until we see election results and exit polls.

Take the survey: What do you think of Trump’s stance on abortion? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: What happens in the presidential election if (say, thanks to Kennedy pulling enough voters from the other two) none of the candidates for president accumulate the minimum 270 electoral votes in November?

— Nathan from Madison, MS

Tangle: The short answer is that — if no candidate receives 270 electoral votes in November — Trump would likely win. But I’ll break down why. 

Let’s imagine the scenario: Joe Biden and Donald Trump are locked in a close race where they split battleground states, but Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. blitzes a state like Arizona and ends up winning their 11 electoral votes. Each state certifies the results of its election on December 11, at which point everyone will officially know that no candidate will receive 270 electoral votes… based on what the electorate in each state decided.

On December 17, the electors in every state will convene to give their votes to a presidential candidate. Although electors almost always support the candidate who won their state’s popular vote, there is no federal law that binds electors to do so. A state’s representative who breaks with the popular vote is called a “faithless elector,” which seventeen states do not have any laws against. We saw this in 2016, when seven electors cast “faithless” votes. That election was unusual because the candidates were both polarizing and the electoral result was not close, meaning a protest vote from a faithless elector was more likely but also somewhat meaningless (none of those faithless electors gave their support to the opposing candidate). In a competitive race, it’s highly unlikely that any elector would break from that precedent to give a candidate their state did not support enough electoral votes to meet the 270 threshold.

When Congress tallies the votes on January 6, 2025, if no candidate receives a majority of 270, the election would be sent to the House. Each state’s House delegation gets one vote, decided by  majority decision. The candidate who receives the support of a majority of states would win. 26 states currently have Republican House majorities, meaning the election would almost certainly go to Trump.

The most uncertain aspect of this scenario is who would then become vice president, which would be decided in the Senate by a simple majority vote. Given the current deadlock in the Senate, it’s a total crapshoot to imagine that result. Would the Senate try to “honor” the outcome in the House and support the winner’s running mate? Would they support a unity ticket with the other candidate’s running mate? Would they vote for Kennedy? It’s very tough to say.

But I’ll give the usual caveat I give to these hypotheticals: Right now, this whole situation is pretty unlikely, but that could change (see today’s “Under the radar story”).

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Under the radar.

Last week, the Nebraska legislature rejected an attempt to change state rules from awarding electoral votes by congressional districts to awarding them on a winner-take-all basis. Nebraska has a unusual system of dividing up electoral votes: It awards two electoral votes to the statewide winner, and one electoral vote to each of the state’s three congressional districts. In 2020, President Biden won one of Nebraska's five electoral votes by winning NE-2, which is home to the state’s largest city, Omaha. The fight over NE-2’s vote could have huge implications in 2024. In a realistic scenario where Trump flips Arizona, Georgia and Nevada but Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, he would win the election with 270 electoral votes to Trump's 268. But if Nebraska goes to a winner-take-all system, it'd be a 269-269 tie. Republican lawmakers are expected to try to pass a change once more before the state’s 2024 legislative session closes on April 18. USA Today has the story


  • 73%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they favor allowing abortion at least until six weeks into a pregnancy, according to a 2023 AP-NORC poll. 
  • 48%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they would support a national ban on abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy, according to a February 2024 Economist/YouGov poll. 
  • 24%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
  • 76%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say the issue of abortion is important to them.
  • 5%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say abortion is their top issue.
  • 38%. The percentage of U.S. adults who approve of how President Joe Biden has handled abortion issues during his term. 
  • 41%. The percentage of U.S. adults who think abortion rights will be weakened or lost entirely if Donald Trump wins the 2024 election.

The extras.

Yesterday’s survey: 692 readers answered our survey on Israel’s military campaign in Gaza with 33% calling it far too aggressive. “I don't know if too aggressive is the correct wording, 10/7 was their 9/11 and as a nation that responded with 20 years of war we're one to talk. But Israel has to do better. From what I've seen it's basically undisputed that 2/3 of the casualties are civilians. That's unacceptable and if it's not then the USA has no business supporting Israel in this war,” one respondent said.

What do you think of Trump’s stance on abortion? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

As a 10-year-old, Harrison Johnson from North Carolina completed a history project on Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, he remained interested in the subject, reading books and old newspaper accounts, even going so far as to speak with survivors. Following a visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Oahu, Harrison was motivated to go even further. Now as a wizened 11-year-old, Harrison has started a fundraising campaign, called “Harrison’s Heroes,” to raise $100,000 for Pacific Historic Parks, the non-profit that stewards the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. In particular, Harrison hopes to expand the story of the attack to include heroic acts by men and women of color, and other underrepresented service members. So far, he has raised $94,000. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.