Republicans are still months away from kicking off the presidential race – and that's a good thing for front-runners like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who could use the extra time to hone their messaging. In four years, the Kentucky leader has won over plenty of fans for his solid record on a whole range of issues, including life. But today, it isn't his record that's concerning people – it's his rhetoric.
This week, in a sit-down with former Obama insider David Axelrod, Sen. Paul surprised a lot of conservatives with his nonchalant attitude on abortion and his role in ending it. As president, Axelrod wanted to know, how hard would his White House push to overturn Roe v. Wade? The Senator's answer: not much. With the country so evenly divided on the issue, he thinks an incremental approach is best. "I think the debate is about when life begins," said the lead sponsor of the Senate's Life at Conception Act. "Is it okay for an eight-pound baby to be aborted one week before delivery?"
Asked what his personal opinion on life at conception is, Sen. Paul said, "My personal religious belief is that life begins at the very beginning." But, he explained, America is evenly divided between "all life and no abortion, or all abortion and no life... I think the law will come down in between." Later, he said, "The country is in the middle, [and] we're not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise."
Maybe it was inarticulate, or maybe these are the Senator's real feelings, but that last comment certainly set off alarm bells for social conservatives. Obviously, no president has the power to unilaterally ban abortion, but he does have the power to make the issue a priority – something most Americans assumed Rand Paul would do. Regardless of the GOP's pick, conservatives expect their nominee to use the Oval Office to advance a culture of life. Changing minds is important, but what better way to accomplish it than using a national platform to talk about its importance?
As to Senator Paul's suggestion that the country isn't persuaded on the issue, the latest surveys tell a different story. In fact, Americans' opinions on abortion have shifted so much that Gallup polling now considers "pro-life" the "new normal." What's more, the biggest sea change has been among young voters – the same ones who make up the Senator's strongest support.
And public opinion isn't the only thing proving him wrong. In the states, legislatures are shattering records for pro-life bills, passing a whopping 205 measures between 2011 and 2013. If that isn't indicative of the public's conviction on the issue, I don't know what is. Just yesterday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) added another one, signing his state's 20-week abortion ban into law – outlawing the procedure when babies can feel excruciating pain.
After the failures of John McCain and Mitt Romney, social conservatives are looking for someone who will put a priority on their issues, not just use them as throwaway lines in a stump speech.