Rand Paul on abortion: “We’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise”

posted at 11:21 am on April 23, 2014 by Allahpundit

Via MFP, an eyebrow-raiser from yesterday’s chat with David Axelrod(!) at the University of Chicago. David Corn and Mother Jones are out with another gotcha piece on Paul this morning citing his (mild) criticism of Reagan in the past for not cutting spending more as president, but this clip is more interesting, I think. Knocking the Gipper for not doing enough to shrink government is Libertarianism 101; even mainstream conservatives who venerate him will grudgingly concede that they wish he’d done better before quickly adding that he did what he could with a liberal Congress. And needless to say, no one’s going to stand onstage next to Paul at the 2015 primary debates and rip him for criticizing deficit spending. It’s okay to criticize Reagan as long as you’re respectful and as long as you’re doing it from the right.

So forget the Mother Jones piece. What about this exchange with Axelrod, though? MFP headlines the clip, “Rand Paul: Relax, I’m not going to ban abortion” — which does seem a fair interpretation of what Paul’s saying. (Maybe it’d be fairer to say, “Rand Paul: Relax, I’m not going to ban abortion anytime soon.”) He notes that he believes that life begins at conception and points out, correctly, that the public takes a middle-ground approach to abortion in most polls. They support giving women a right to terminate in the first trimester, oppose giving them that right in the third trimester, and usually take a skeptical “if necessary” view of the second trimester. If anything, says Paul, current law is far too biased towards the pro-abortion view since it effectively allows for terminations in the third trimester too, which most Americans believe should be illegal. Axelrod, though, keeps pressing: What does that mean we should or could expect from President Paul once in office? Paul’s answer: Not much. Certainly not an all-out ban; there’s still much persuading to be done before most Americans come around to that view. Presumably, if public opinion changes while he’s in office, he’d consider a ban. If it doesn’t, presumably he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d try at least to bring the law in line with opinion by banning terminations in the third trimester, but judge for yourself at the end here whether you think he’d push on that.

You can see what he’s trying to do with this answer. He’s pitching himself as a “different kind of Republican,” someone who can appeal to young voters and minorities in a way that no one else in the party can. One splashy way to do that is to position himself as a pro-life but modest, incrementalist candidate on abortion; not only will it make the left’s “war on women” demagoguery a bit harder but it might also reassure libertarians, not all of whom are as pro-life as the Pauls are, that he hasn’t completely sold out to conservatives in running for the GOP nomination. Meanwhile, though, he’ll be lambasted for this by whoever ends up as the social-conservative champion in the primaries — maybe Huckabee, maybe Santorum, maybe (most dangerously of all for Paul) Ted Cruz. If abortion is morally equivalent to slavery, as many social cons believe, then Paul’s approach is intolerable. He’d have a moral duty to work with the legislature and the courts to ban it, whatever the political consequences. Paul can sustain an attack like that from Huck or Santorum, I think, because they’re niche candidates who aren’t competing with him for the wider grassroots conservative vote. I’m not so sure he can sustain it from Cruz, who is competing. The question for Cruz is, how forcefully does he want to push the “ban at all costs” position? It might give him an opening against Paul in the primaries but it’d also make things easier for Democrats in attacking him in the general. Paul is right about the polling on this. It’s purely a question of how the GOP wants to deal with the reality of it.

Update: Ramesh Ponnuru notes that it’s hard to call Paul wishy-washy on this topic when he’s the lead sponsor of the “Life at Conception Act.” Right, but it’s one thing for a legislator to float a bill and another for a president, with his bully-pulpit power to set agendas, to push for it. The question raised by the clip, I think, is what sort of priority abortion would be for Paul as president. He’s right that it’ll take lots of persuasion to build congressional support to act. Would a “different kind of Republican” be willing to do that? Many of the not-so-different kinds haven’t been in the past.

Update: Matt Lewis responds:

Yeah, but what if you’ve spent 40 years making the argument against abortion and the public still supports terminations in the first trimester? Should you ban it anyway, assuming you have the votes in Congress, or do you bow to public opinion? That’s what makes the Paul clip interesting. The public opposed ObamaCare in 2010 and that didn’t stop Democrats from passing it anyway. They’ve paid a price for that politically, but Nancy Pelosi herself said recently that it was all worth it. Would the next GOP president agree?

Update: Good point by John McCormack. One reason Paul is respected on the right is because he’s a man of principle. Agree or disagree, but when it comes to libertarian priorities like shrinking government or surveillance, he fights hard for what he thinks is right whether or not the public agrees. Why the difference in abortion?

Update: Almost forgot — here’s what Paul said not long ago about another hot-button social issue.

[Q:] Right. But it seems what they’re saying is that the Republican Party should stay out of issues like gay marriage.

[A:] I think that the Republican Party, in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues. The Republican Party is not going to give up on having quite a few people who do believe in traditional marriage. But the Republican Party also has to find a place for young people and others who don’t want to be festooned by those issues.

Not unlike Mitch Daniels’s “truce” comment on social issues. If Rand’s trying to build the party by pushing his core issues, namely, smaller government and protecting civil liberties, a strong push on abortion or gay marriage might alienate some of the voters he’s trying to reach. Again: How much of a priority would social issues be to his administration?


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I have always wondered how using science’s own definition of when human life begins is extreme, radical, and politcally radioactive.

Basic Human Embryology textbooks demonstrate clearly when a new human life begins. If you want to talk about settled science, this is truly it. We have known for centuries that a new human life existed inside the womb.

What has been debated is a philosphical question and the consensus today (not when Roe v. Wade was decided, mind you) is that the new human life isn’t worth spit unless and only, unless, the woman states it.

However, that view is slowly changing. Way too slow in my view, but it is changing. Supporters of abortion know the slippery slope well (they use it to their advantage day in and day out) and there is a clear reason why they yell till they turn blue when any kind of restriction is placed on killing the unborn.

Is supporting human life less of priority than jobs or the economy?

Why can’t we be like Reagan who did both, forcefully, and used the bully pulpit in doing so in and out of office?

As far as I can tell, the argument that supporters of human life in the womb are just one issue voters is ridiculous on its face.

What got Romney in trouble with the base of the GOP and made him the default candidate after trying out literally everyone else?

Hmmmm?

Romneycare is a very good start.

To run away from abortion is to run away from fighting the good fight. You can promote jobs, economy, et all and fight abortion and win.

TexasDude on April 23, 2014 at 10:43 PM

This, is how you win over a culture, and change minds

Thing is, though, that is not how it was done in regards to abortion. That’s real history and not some ginned up Vietnamesqe sounding mantra.

Rush through time to Obamacare. It had no real support from most of America. Poll after poll stated as much. People, while not exactly happy, were generally satisfied with their health insurance and, in turn, their health care. Oh, lots of Che loving folks liked it, but flyover country, blah.

Yet, that didn’t stop the Democrats. Nope, they ramrodded it through when their only chance came up. Even when the GOP got the power to thwart it with the election of one guy, the Democrats used parliamentary procedure to get around that.

So, winning over hearts and minds like McNamara in Vietnam sounds good and can work (the Temperance Movement for example), the reality is that you take advantage of any opportuniy you can get or has arrived at hand to do what you and your party want/demand/desire.

The problem we have is that there isn’t much enthusiasm from the GOP leadership to do that.

TexasDude on April 23, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Not unlike Mitch Daniels’s “truce” comment on social issues.

Let’s call it for what it is. It’s a surrender, not a “truce”. And anyone willing to surrender on the issue of life will eventually surrender on pretty much everything else.

Regardless, it is a moot point. Just like über-loser Mitch Daniels, Rand Paul will never be President.

Norwegian on April 24, 2014 at 12:25 AM

Does this MFer have to hit you folks over the head with a mallet that says “Libertarian” for you to get the message. Rand Paul is not going to run an amalgamated libertarian campaign in 2016. He’s not going to cautiously forward libertarian ideas. He is going to go ALL IN. And he is going to win the nomination ala Barack Obama. Mark. My. Words.

libfreeordie on April 23, 2014 at 10:32 PM

You don’t actually believe that, because if you did, you’d be afraid. Libertarianism (small l or big L) is antithetical to a hardcore progressive like you.

If Rand Paul is dumb enough to run a pure libertarian campaign, he deserves to be a permanent loser like his dad.

Good Solid B-Plus on April 24, 2014 at 1:57 AM

Agree or disagree, but when it comes to libertarian priorities like shrinking government or surveillance, he fights hard for what he thinks is right whether or not the public agrees. Why the difference in abortion?

Because he thinks his rights are more important than the rights of the children being slaughtered.

itsnotaboutme on April 24, 2014 at 7:08 AM

Another man willing to let his politics conveniently determine the nations moral stance on life itself.

Don L on April 24, 2014 at 7:56 AM

My take.

kingsjester on April 24, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Presidents can take certain executive actions on this issue (like once again reinstating the Mexico City policy), but for the most part, the President’s exclusive role with regard to abortion is the appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices. As long as potential President Paul does that — and I have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t — then I don’t really care how wishy-washy he is in his public statements. He’s correctly reading the electorate, for good or for ill.

Had Lincoln been a fire-breathing abolitionist, he probably never would have been elected, and never would have been able to issue the emancipation. There’s room for some strategic moderation in the pro-life movement.

Cash on April 24, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Yeah, but what if you’ve spent 40 years making the argument against abortion and the public still supports terminations in the first trimester?

Ah, no. I rarely, if ever, hear any public debate or discussion on abortion. “The science is settled”, as it were. Well, the law is, anyway.

There is no real public education on abortion, either in media, schools or news, that details exactly what it is, the circumstances, etc. See good old Kermit Gosnell, for example.

Example: terminations in the first trimester for “any reason” or certain reasons? Due to a legit medical necessity, or because the mother doesn’t want to look fat in a swimsuit this summer? Do ya think phrasing a comparison that way might change some votes?

The SCOTUS removed abortion from any real public debate by making it a heretofore unseen constitutional right. The left won, and then demanded that people stop arguing against it. Any attempt to do so is now labeled “anti-woman”. So how can you sway the public on an issue when you are effectively gagged? How can you expect the public opinion to turn if you aren’t actively trying to steer it? The Left has done just this on several issues for years, to great success. So OF COURSE they don’t want that tactic adopted by the Right.

And on a personal level, if you went along with what could be argued is “murder of a child”, are you so inclined to evaluate your decision and possibly face any guilt from it, or just keep on truckin’ on?

Saltyron on April 24, 2014 at 10:26 AM

The Tea Party movement wasn’t emotional at all, right?
*sigh*

itsnotaboutme on April 23, 2014 at 6:09 PM

The Tea Party movement was started over anger over bailouts, frustration over corruption, and fear the liberty may be receeding in the US. These are all issues that would understandably generate emotions, ie, they aren’t pure numbers issues.

Conversely, most of our deficit issues, aren’t nearly as emotionally charged. There’s some emotion, sure, Dems are always trying to convince people that Republicans are trying to take their Social Security benefits away. However, this just isn’t a very effective tactic, because nobody whom isn’t already on the far left plantation thinks Republicans want to take Grandma Etna’s benefits away, and nobody really cares if a current fourty year old is going to be able to collect benefits in twenty or twenty five years.

Also, when it comes to political power, when life begins simply doesn’t enter into the equation. The number of American’s that wish to Ban abortion entirely nearly hits single digits. That’s simply nowhere near the level of support you’d need to institute a Ban.

Yes yes, you can make a decent case for it being the right thing, but in a democracy or a republic that simply doesn’t matter. You still need a bare minimum level of support to both make a change, and to make it stick.

WolvenOne on April 24, 2014 at 1:06 PM

You have to be high if you actually believe abortion is going to be banned in America.

And here, you have always said you never touch that stuff. C’mon.

Moesart on April 24, 2014 at 1:08 PM

I’m not much of a SoCon myself, but I don’t think the GOP should completely abandon social issues, especially since the far left wants to grow the size of government and use the power of the state to enforce its moral code. Progressives see social issues and fiscal issues as one and the same and I don’t blame conservatives who have a similar mindset.
With that being said, I doubt Rand’s abortion comments will cost him the nomination since he was trying to be pragmatic. The best thing he can do for the pro life movement as President is appoint justices who would overturn Roe, and I expect him to be better on judicial matters than any other potential candidate.

royal flush on April 24, 2014 at 2:33 PM

A progressive is simply anyone who believes it is the role of government to impose behavior. It doesn’t matter what behavior is being imposed, it is the notion of using guns to have your way with your neighbors that defines a progressive.

Another Libertarian on April 24, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Just curious, why all the frickin’ articles about Rand Paul on here lately? Haven’t we got the picture yet that he’s a dad-gummed idiot (just like his nut-case Dad)?

For all that’s good and decent in the world, let’s replace these articles with what’s going on with Ted Cruz! What say ye, o’ faithful ones??

Bob Davis on April 24, 2014 at 3:21 PM

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