In the wake of her stellar performance at the CNN debate, Carly Fiorina has shot to second place in the polls, and her ascent raises a possibility that should terrify Democrats: The GOP might just nominate a passionate, articulate pro-life woman as its standard-bearer in 2016.
If that happens, Democrats can say goodbye to their beloved "war on women" rhetoric.
Consider: Hillary Clinton recently compared pro-life Republican presidential candidates to terrorists. "I take it a little personal when they go after women," Clinton smirked. "Extreme views about women, we expect that from some of the terrorist groups . . . But it's a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be president of the United States." That line won't work so well if the Republican running for president of the United States is a woman.More coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaign
Neither will Clinton's oft-repeated complaint that Republicans trying to defund Planned Parenthood want to eliminate access to breast cancer screening. "I would like these Republican candidates to look the mom in the eye who caught her breast cancer early because she was able to get a screening for cancer," Clinton said.
Fiorina does not have to look that mom in the eye - because she is that mom.
"I'm a breast cancer survivor," she told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend. "Of course we should be funding those things. But I find it fascinating that Democrats will never support taxpayer funding, for example, for a women's health center right next door to a Planned Parenthood [clinic] that would provide all those same services and also provide women an alternative to abortion." Boom.
Fiorina argues persuasively that it is Democrats, not Republicans, who are "extreme" when it comes to abortion.
Speaking at the Susan B. Anthony List dinner this year, Fiorina described how "women come up to me and say, 'I agree with Republicans on so many things, but I just can't support this extreme pro-life platform of the Republican Party.' And the way I answer that always is to say, 'Well, I can respect that. Have you ever read the Democratic Party platform? Well, here's what it says: Any abortion, at any time, at any point in a woman's pregnancy, for any reason, to be paid for by taxpayers. . . . Do you agree with that?' Nobody agrees with that! Even people who think they are pro-choice don't agree with that."
She speaks eloquently about how Democrats laud sound science - except in matters of when life begins. "For those of us who believe in the sanctity of Life, science is indeed proving us right every day," she recently told voters in Iowa. "The DNA in a zygote is precisely the same DNA as the day we die."
In her home state of California, she says, lives and livelihoods have been destroyed because of the extreme lengths to which liberals have gone to protect the lives of fish, frogs and even flies. "Liberals may not know when life begins," Fiorina says, "but surely even they would argue that a human life is worth more than a fly's."
Fiorina came to her pro-life views after graduating high school, when she went to work as a volunteer at a school for special-needs children. She grew close to an African American boy with Down syndrome named Kenneth and spent over a month teaching him how to name his eyes and his ears and understand what they did. "I remember to this day the look of absolute joy and triumph on Kenneth's face when he finally mastered the ability to say 'Eye' and 'Eee,' " she recalled recently during a speech at the Heritage Foundation.
Months later, after her first semester in college, she returned to visit the school, and when Kenneth saw her ran up and jumped into her arms and, pointing to his eyes and ears, yelled "Eye! Eee!" "That was a moment of joy and grace that Kenneth gave me," Fiorina recalled. The lesson she learned is "every human life has potential and every human life is precious." Few know this softer side of Carly Fiorina. But in the weeks and months ahead, they will learn more about her.
During last week's debate, Fiorina looked into the camera and dared Hillary Clinton to watch the Planned Parenthood tapes. "Whether you're a pro-choice woman or a pro-life woman, this video tape is depraved," she recently told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview. "It's Hillary Clinton's position that women should not be permitted to look at an ultrasound before an abortion, yet people who are trying to harvest body parts can use ultrasound to ensure that these body parts are preserved so they can be sold."
If Fiorina gets the nomination, perhaps she can deliver her dare directly to Clinton on the presidential debate stage. I suspect Clinton won't fare much better going head-to-head with Fiorina than Donald Trump did.
Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.