2012 Flashback: Paul Schools Santorum on Abortion

The 2016 presidential primaries will kick into high gear this week with the first debate for the Republican candidates. The inclusion of Donald Trump notwithstanding, the 2016 debates will be unable to hold a candle to the 2012 debates, and for one reason – Ron Paul won’t be on stage.

Whatever anyone might say about Paul or his politics, it is undeniable that he radically impacted the 2008 and 2012 Republican debates. What would have otherwise been a contest to determine who the most effective reciter of party dogma was, the debates were transformed into actual policy discussions, with Ron Paul on one side and every other candidate – and a large portion of the crowd – on the other.

You could almost sense the other candidates’ frustration at being asked to defend policy positions that they thought were self-evident to all other Republicans. I dare say that no one, not even Ron Paul’s own son, will have the same impact on this cycle’s debates.

One of my favorite moments from the 2012 debates came when the Republican Party’s resident blowhard, Rick Santorum, attempted to smear Paul as insufficiently pro-life (a curious charge coming from the guy who wants to carpet bomb entire nations and sort the guilty from the innocent later). Paul, of course, completely cleaned Santorum’s clock. Here’s the debate as it happened:

There are a couple of really interesting points in this. First, Ron Paul lands on an insight that is completely lost on the other candidates. Recounting his days in medical school, he recalls how the cultural revolution of the 1960s led to a later change in the laws.

Now, to hear all the other Republicans tell it, public morality declines only for the want of effective legislation. But Paul’s key insight is simple and compelling – “law will not correct the basic problem, and that’s the morality of the people that we must (have).”

But Santorum was too busy to hear or consider this point. Busy with what, it’s hard to say. Maybe he was busy being triggered by Paul’s analysis, or perhaps he was doing his darndest to remember the verbatim of his obviously memorized smear of Paul.

“Congressman Paul,” Santorum smugly began, “has a National Right to Life voting record of 50 percent, which is pretty much what Harry Reid’s National Right to Life voting record is.” You can see in Santorum’s eyes that he is pleased with himself. You can imagine him thinking, “Game, set, match,” to himself.

Paul’s response, however, was as brilliant as it was over Santorum’s head. “…it is true that we have a disagreement on how we approach it,” Paul said. “I follow what my understanding is of the Constitution, and it does allow for the states to deal with difficult problems. As a matter of fact, it allows the states to deal with almost all the problems, if you look at it. …these powers (to ban abortion) aren’t given to the Congress.”

He’s right. There’s nothing in the Constitution gives the federal government theauthority to legislate on this issue to the federal government. When they take positions like Santorum’s, Republicans, who invariably profess devotion to the law of the land, undermine, their own professed principles – whether they know it or not.

But Paul’s next point was the dagger in the heart of Santorum’s argument. Because, as Paul states, not handling this issue on the national level is not merely a matter of constitutional fidelity – it would be, in practice, the most effective means of actually ending abortion.

Paul explains, “This is the solution, because if we would allow the states to write their laws…you repeal Roe versus Wade overnight instead of waiting year after year to change the court system.”

You’re not likely to hear any of this during the 2016 debates. What you’re likely to hear is a whole lot of pointless babbling on what Republicans must do to ban abortion at the federal level. Of course, for this to be believable the candidates would have to explain what happened during those years in the 2000s when Republicans held the presidency, both houses of Congress and had a majority on the Supreme Court.

If Republicans like Santorum were serious about ending abortion, you would have thought that something would have happened during that period. But nothing did.

Whether or not most viewers realize it, Ron Paul will be missed during the 2016 debates. His perspectives, logically consistent and historically accurate, will not be there to serve as the antidote to the verbal lunacy that will be flying around the stage. Ron Paul’s treatment of the abortion question – and his thorough throttling of what constitutes a frontrunning Republican candidate – made the debates better.