Rand Paul: Wins Day One of CPAC, Helping Rethink the War on Terror


Rand Paul, post-filibuster, strides mightily atop the world of young-skewing conservative activism yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon gives Paul a clear day one victory:

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…..

Seitz-Wald notes that while presumptive 2016 rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who preceeded Paul talked of GOP's goodness, 

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."

Other bits of Paul-centric CPAC coverage:

Daily Beast:

 If CPAC were a music festival, Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan might be the headliner, butRand Paul would be the obscure indie band-turned-newly-hip main attraction. The senator from Kentucky's now-infamous filibuster last week seems to have done for Paul what "coming out" did for Frank Ocean. Leaders of many of the young Republican groups considered a staple at the conservative conference said they observed an increase in young attendees, many of them undoubtedly here to stand with Rand.

That article goes on to quote various youthful GOP operatives supporting the "Rand is the future" notion.

•The Wall Street Journal also draws attention to the distinction between a Rubio who seems to think the movement and Party are doing fine and a Paul who calls for a change toward serious dedication to liberty.

Davd Weigel at Slate notes that most people left the room after Paul spoke.

•More Rand Paul at CPAC coverage from Washington Times, Huffington Post, and Atlantic.

Rand Paul
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Not about CPAC, but Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post noted something interesting about Paul, something I also discussed in my article "3 Problems Rand Paul Faces With His Post-Filibuster Fame": that Rand Paul's talk, framed as being about domestic rights, was at core about foreign policy as well. Krauthammer:

The vexing and pressing issue is the use of drones abroad. The filibuster pretended not to be about that. Which is testimony to Paul's political adroitness. It was not until two days later that he showed his hand, writing in The Post, "No American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime." Note the absence of the restrictive clause: "on American soil."

Now we're talking about a larger, more controversial issue: the killing-by-drone in Yemen of al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Outside American soil, the Constitution does not rule, no matter how much Paul would like it to. Yet Paul's unease applies to non-American drone targets as well. His quarrel is with the very notion of the war on terror, though he is normally too smart to say that openly and unequivocally. Unlike his father, who implied that 9/11 was payback for our sins, Paul the Younger more gingerly expresses general skepticism about not just the efficacy but the legality of the entire war.

That skepticism is finding an audience as the war grinds into its 12th year….

[[UPDATE: As commenters have noted, Krauthammer is nuts about Constitution not applying outside U.S.; here's Glenn Greenwald beating him up thoroughly on that point. Back to original post….]]

Yes, Rand Paul said nothing of substance about non-interventionist foreign policy at CPAC. He played more to a Ronald Reagan tradition of Reader's Digest-y tales of stupid ways government wastes our money. Yes, one can make too much of CPAC success; Rand's father Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll in 2010 and 2011 and did not end up–yet–winning the movement, much less the Party to which the movement attaches.

But here's his son, extending the march of the notion that what we need most out of government now is for it to limit itself and leave us alone–not to fight culture wars or real wars. It's a good thing.

I wrote about Paul's CPAC talk here yesterday, complete with full video.