Well, that was exciting for me, as a Scotus nerd — the Supreme Court was up to bat first in the debate! And the exchange was sharply defining, most memorably on abortion.
In past elections, presidential candidates have soft-pedaled their views on the subject. This time, Mrs. Clinton sounded resolute and even righteous about defending a woman’s right to control one of the most “intimate and difficult” decisions about her health care.
Mr. Trump used strong language, too, describing how he wants to prevent the ripping of “the baby out of the womb” on the last day of pregnancy. This is what his base wants to hear: Many Republicans, especially religious ones, cite the prospect of future nominations to the court as their reason for supporting Mr. Trump, despite their distaste for, oh, just about everything else about him. So he checked that box. Though oddly, he didn’t simply say “yes” when the moderator, Chris Wallace, asked whether he wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Maybe his old pro-choice self couldn’t quite bear to say it. Or maybe he wanted to soften his stance a bit — I heard a bit of moderation in his promise to appoint “pro-life judges” who would send the issue “back to the states.”
Mrs. Clinton talked to her base, too. She talked about her opposition, and Trump’s support, for defunding Planned Parenthood; the polls are with her on that one. She got in a gibe, reminding Mr. Trump of his (quickly retracted) statement of support for punishing women who seek abortions. (It’s a fairly logical end once you go down the road of outlawing the procedure, but abortion opponents are trained to talk about jailing “abortionists” not women.)
She described the “most heartbreaking” circumstances that often led women to late-term abortion: risk to their own life or health, or the discovery of serious birth defects. That’s not the only reason for abortion after the first trimester, but it’s a significant issue.
I’ll confess I felt a small thrill: More than at any big moment since the convention, Mrs. Clinton owned her feminism. She sounded like the first woman running for president, defending other women — our autonomy and our control of our own bodies.