The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is an annual gathering that has traditionally been overrun by old-school, establishment Republicans.
This year, however, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was king of the mega conference. Paul’s powerful speech marked a shift in the Republican party away from aging values to the libertarian-friendly ideas of individualism, privacy, and freedom.
Paul began his CPAC speech with, “Imagine the time when the White House is occupied by a friend of liberty. You might think I’m talking about electing republicans… I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.” The Kentucky Senator hinted at the fact that party labels do not matter — rather, what is important is actions and sticking to constitutional principles.
Addressing the young people in the crowd, Paul said, “Will you, new generation of liberty-lovers, stand and be heard?”
Paul also made a point to specifically stress privacy in his speech.”If you own a cell phone, you are under surveillance,” he said. “I believe that what you do on your cell phone is none of [the NSA’s] damn business.”
Paul was smart to avoid social Republican talking points and religion altogether in his speech. He understands that in order for the Republican Party to return to the powerhouse it once was, it must win the support of the growing, outspoken Libertarian population.
The support for Rand Paul at CPAC was incredible. “Stand With Rand” signs were ubiquitous throughout the conference. Not surprisingly, Paul won the CPAC straw poll by a large margin. Ted Cruz, another libertarian favorite, came in second.
Of course, however, not everyone at CPAC was a Rand Paul fan. Rick Santorum’s religiously-based speech, a stark contrast to Paul’s, was a hit with some CPAC attendees. Still, many young libertarians thought Santorum came across as sanctimonious and abrasive. Yes, we all know you hate abortion and gay marriage, Rick. This message won’t grow the GOP tent. The usually loud and energized libertarians in the crowd merely applauded politely after Santorum’s speech.
The conservative conference, quite frankly, had an overall odd energy this year due to conflicting camps present: the old school Reagan republicans, the establishment GOP folks, and the young libertarians.
The bigger issue at hand is that the Republican Party often comes off as exclusive and judgmental. For the Party to become dominant and take back the White House, it must attract and embrace independents and non-traditional conservatives (primarily libertarians, who continue to make up an increasing percentage of the electorate). This means not over-emphasizing morality and religion into the base of the platform, and being more accepting of diverse social opinions.
The Republican Party is supposed to represent small government and individualism. Politicians like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz exemplify these values. For the Republican Party to flourish, it must stop listening to the Karl Roves and the Mitt Romneys, and recognize the intense energy generated by the likes of libertarian-leaning republicans . Such politicians won’t make Karl Rove happy or rich, but they can help make the GOP victorious once again.