“A lot of them didn’t fight or weren’t really around to fight,” Mr. Trump said. “And it did energize the Democrats, but a lot of the people that wanted and fought for years to get it, they sort of — I don’t know — they weren’t there protesting and doing what they could have done.”
Mr. Trump’s interviewer, David Brody, who is also a longtime commentator for the Christian Broadcasting Network, appeared to sense the potential effect Mr. Trump’s comments could have on evangelical voters. He told the former president that some anti-abortion activists had taken exception to being blamed for midterm losses.
“Do you want to clear that up at all?” Mr. Brody asked.
Mr. Trump doubled down.
“It’s sort of what I explained to you,” he said. “I just didn’t see them fighting during this last election — fighting for victory for people that were on the same side as all of us.” He added, “The only rallies were the rallies I gave.”
In reality, Mr. Trump, a former Democrat who once called himself supportive of abortion rights, has often been uncomfortable discussing the issue, going back to his 2016 campaign. He privately viewed the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade as problematic for Republicans, and he rarely spoke about abortion during his 2022 campaign rallies.
Mr. Vander Plaats suggested that Republicans’ failure to win control of the Senate in November was due in part to Mr. Trump’s support for candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, who did not make abortion a central focus of his candidacy.
“Having an instinct to go after a very loyal base that you’re going to need in the Iowa caucuses, in the Republican primary, that’s just a bad instinct or it’s really bad advice,” Mr. Vander Plaats said, adding that “it’s time to turn the page” and put Mr. Trump’s movement behind another candidate.
Evangelical leaders and voters may have several other Republican options. One of them is Mr. Pence, a longtime evangelical who has visited churches in various states and has been outspoken in support of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. Another is Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state and C.I.A. director under Mr. Trump. There is also Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who a number of donors are hoping will enter the race.