Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster on the drone program has turned him into a superstar here at CPAC, where red and black “Stand With Rand” stickers and T-shirts -- distributed by an organization founded by his father -- can be spotted on one of every six or seven people milling around outside the main ballroom, especially on the younger folks.
“That filibuster was the best move by a politician I’ve ever seen,” a high school senior from Virginia with a swept bowl-cut (who has seen a lot of moves in his time) exclaimed when asked about his sticker.
When Paul himself took the stage inside, the audience roared in approbation and many stood for the duration of the speech to physically show their support. Paul played the hits right off the back, opening with a joke about his now iconic filibuster. “I was told I get 10 measly minutes, but I came prepared with 13 hours' worth of material!” he said while holding up a stack of black binders. “Don’t drone me, bro!” a young man yelled approvingly from the crowd.
The warm reception for Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy ideas is a stark contrast to the CPACs of years past, when neoconservatives ruled the day, like when Dick Cheney had a keynote spot just two years ago. Supporters of Ron Paul heckled the former vice president from the audience, but now one of their own is on the stage and getting only love from the crowd.
Paul also drew contrasts with Sen. Marco Rubio, who spoke immediately before Paul. Both men are rumored to be considering a White House bid in 2016. In their speeches, both leaned heavily on the gimmicks that made them famous in recent weeks, but Rubio’s incessant jokes about drinking water during his State of the Union response felt petty and cheesy compared to the substance of Paul’s filibuster.
And unlike Rubio, who spoke about the fundamental goodness of the GOP, Paul offered a plea for a revamp. “The Republican Party has to change,” Paul said. It especially needs to appeal to young people by expanding its conception of limited government beyond taxes and regulation to things like drug policy, technology, and civil liberties, he explained, because the “Facebook generation” is the “core of the 'leave me alone' coalition."
At the end, in a nod to his fans in the crowd, Paul concluded, “I will ask anyone who values liberty to stand with me.”
And with that, he won the day.
Stacking Rubio and Paul back-to-back, whether intentional or not, begs for comparison, especially in a media environment keen to find any hints of 2016 ambitions or bold visions for reinvention of the party. And while Rubio was busy making corny jokes about his water gaffe, Paul looked like the leader of a nascent and growing “stand with Rand” movement that has big ambitions to remake a party reluctant to be dragged into 2013.