Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may have alienated some of his socially conservative supporters this week after he sounded surprisingly ambivalent on the issue of abortion in an interview with David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.
In a sit-down interview with the likely presidential candidate on Tuesday, Axelrod asked Paul whether he would try to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion outright if he were president. Paul responded that even though he personally believes life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong, the country is too divided on the issue for him to try to ban the procedure entirely.
“I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle, and we are not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise,” Paul said.
Conservatives were not pleased with his answer.
"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," Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote on Thursday. "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."
Conservative journalist Mollie Hemingway criticized Paul for putting politics over principle. "This might be political calculation, but considering he wants to be known for being principled as opposed to pandering, he needs to reconsider his statements," she wrote in The Federalist.
Paul's moderate comments are certainly inconsistent with his record on abortion. He introduced the Life at Conception Act in March, which would grant legal personhood rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. The bill would ban abortion entirely and could effect the legality of some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization.
Paul made it clear in his interview with Axelrod that he opposes legal abortion and believes current U.S. abortion law is too lenient. “There are two extremes,” Paul said. “Where we are now is an extreme where there is no real regulation of abortion during entire gestation, and then there are people on the other side who say, ‘Well, I don’t want any abortion during any of the thing without exceptions.’"
But the way to fight abortion as president is to do so with incremental laws, Paul said, and to sway public opinion.
Perkins suggested he would have a hard time supporting Paul in a 2016 presidential run unless the senator is willing to stand up for conservative values. "After the failures of [former GOP nominees] 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," Perkins wrote.