What does Trump really think?

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump sparked controversy with remarks this week on abortions
  • Peggy Drexler: This time, it's possible even Trump has gone too far

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)What's Donald Trump thinking?

That's the question coming on the heels of the latest remarks from the campaign season's most provocative candidate. Earlier this week, you've probably heard, Trump announced that if abortion were banned -- which it very well could be if he is elected to office -- he believed women who undergo the procedure should be punished.
    And yet, it's more than just a case of another day, another headline-making proclamation. This time, it's possible even Trump has gone too far -- and not just with female voters, but with all voters.
    Peggy Drexler
    In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the GOP front-runner couldn't say what exactly the punishment would be, just that if women's right to choose is revoked, it could force many to seek out illegal procedures, and that those who do should face repercussions. The men responsible for impregnating the women, though -- they'd have nothing to worry about.
    It was a conservative line of thinking even for Trump. Even the most mainstream anti-abortion views -- espoused by such conservatives as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee -- tend to advocate for punishment for providers, rather than for women.
    Certainly, Trump has found success in riling people up. Every week seems to bring a new op-ed calling him out on some offense or another. And yet he's still talking. That's because people are listening, women included, despite the fact that many of his policies would seem to alienate them. Indeed, voters have so far handed him victories in 18 states. And just this week, when asked whether she would vote for Hillary Clinton if Bernie Sanders were to lose the nomination, actress and activist Susan Sarandon told MSNBC's Chris Hayes: "I don't know. I'm going to see what happens." This certainly wasn't an endorsement for Trump, but neither was it censure.
    And yet this week's events have many asking whether Trump's latest incitements might serve, at last, as a wake-up call for those who continue to offer him support.
    Perhaps they should. At the very least, they might highlight just how negatively impactful his election to office could be. And not just for women, but for all voters. For one thing, consider that in the conversation with Matthews, Trump showed, as he has in the past, that his politics are often less about beliefs and policies than extremism, provocation and control; being the loudest in the room and having the final say.
    Trump speaks and acts before he thinks -- as a politician, at least. This was underscored by the fact that he has already backtracked from his abortion statements. After the media outcry, Trump's campaign released a clarification, saying that, "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times." A second clarification said that he believed "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman."
    Which begs the question that should be top of everyone's mind, including his own: What does Trump really think, anyway? What's real and what's bluster? Has he gotten too caught up in his own rhetoric to know?
    For one thing, he hasn't always been so staunchly anti-abortion. In a 1999 interview he declared himself "very pro-choice." He has both defended Planned Parenthood and suggested the government should shut down to avoid funding it. On the topic of working women, he's been both an advocate and an adversary.
    This may be the most concerning thing, for women and men, about the notion of Trump as president: He's equivocal about things that really matter.
    Trump's smart. So it's baffling that he seems to be working so hard to alienate women and, along with them, the men who recognize women as equal members of society. Yet as Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress as House Conference chair, told The New York Times: "I think his comments regarding women and other comments, I find them inappropriate. I find them hurtful and I think they are hurtful to the party, a party that has been founded on equal opportunity for all."
    Polls already show that women are starting to disapprove. It looks like some of those in his own party may be at the top of the list.