As Kentucky senator Rand Paul gears up to launch a presidential campaign, the libertarian leaning Republican may have some problems getting social conservatives on board. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, suggested in an interview that Paul’s brand of Republicanism doesn’t sit well with social conservatives.
“I don’t really consider Rand Paul the bell cow when it comes to what’s happening within conservative circles,” said Perkins in an interview for C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program. “Rand Paul is out in a different pasture, whether it’s foreign policy, domestic policy as it pertains to religious freedom. He’s different on these things. I don’t consider where Rand Paul is to be reflective of where the Republican party is going to be.”
Unlike many other GOP White House hopefuls, Paul has remained quiet on the recent issue of the Indiana religious freedom law, an act social conservatives have supported but many across the country have characterized as discriminatory against gays and lesbians. The first-term Kentucky senator has not spoken publicly at all this week, ostensibly in preparation for his April 7 announcement that he will run for the Republican nomination for president.
On some important social issues for evangelicals, Paul appears to be in sync. He is pro-life and has said he is opposed to same-sex marriage and believes the issue should be left up to the states. Paul did, however, say the Supreme Court's 2013 decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act was appropriate. And Perkins’s concerns about Paul’s stances in other areas, such as foreign policy, indicate there may be reluctance on the part of social conservatives to embrace the libertarian icon in his presidential run.
Perkins did not endorse or say he preferred a particular presidential candidate. Some reports last year suggested the social conservative leader had snubbed Jeb Bush, and Perkins has questioned the former Florida governor's commitment on some issues important to his coalition, including same-sex marriage and the Common Core education standards. But in the C-SPAN interview, Perkins also offered praise for the former governor of Florida.
“I know there have been some reports out there that I was organizing against Jeb Bush. That is absolutely not true,” Perkins said. “He’s not—I haven’t picked a candidate. I’m talking to him.”
Noting the 10-year anniversary of the death of Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman in a vegetative state whose feeding tube was removed in 2005 following a court order, Perkins acknowledged that Bush had been “very outspoken” in favor of keeping Schiavo alive. “He’s been very clear and vocal on the side of life,” said Perkins.
Bush was also among the prospective GOP candidates to voice support for the Indiana RFRA law. In the C-SPAN interview, Perkins called for “forceful leadership” in supporting religious liberty from conservatives.
“I do think religious freedom is going to be a major discussion item in the 2016 election cycle,” he said. “And that’s to the Republicans’ benefit because the Democrats’ leading candidates have taken an opposing view and have come out on the other side of this in many cases. And I think this provides a very clear contrast between candidates and between parties.”