Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:
Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.
The CPAC conference has come in for a lot of justified criticism about excluding popular Republicans like Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. The annual right-wing jamboree is being trashed in the mainstream media as the living, breathing example of why the GOP loses elections since it is oriented toward ideological activists rather than expanding the party’s big tent. But such jibes miss the point about the event. It is by and for the party’s base, not independents, and like any similar gathering of liberal Democrats the response of participants to speakers is a fair measure of what will fire up the people who will do the groundwork in any future election. While the Republicans need to work at recasting their image if they are to win the White House again, no party can succeed without being able to energize their core supporters.
That’s why one shouldn’t dismiss the cheers received today at CPAC by two of the leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as mere noise. Both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were in good form, articulating some of their favorite themes to the faithful. But while Rubio’s speech seemed aimed exactly at those swing voters, or at least those who might be persuaded to back a presentable Republican, Paul’s remarks—like his filibuster earlier this month—seemed geared more toward winning over the people who vote in Republican primaries. While Rubio’s speech was on point and well received, there isn’t much doubt about who is the senator that can best be described as the GOP flavor of the month.
Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.
“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”
I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.
CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, has been making news with its proposed agenda and sponsors list for its upcoming conference next month. Unfortunately for the American Conservative Union (ACU), the group that organizes CPAC, the news has been all about who isn’t invited to the conference–namely the gay conservative group GOProud and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In both instances it appears that the group is trying to set the parameters for which groups and individuals are welcome in the conservative movement, and which should be excluded.
The GOProud ban is nothing new for CPAC, as this is the second straight year that the group has been prohibited from participating in the conference as sponsors. In 2010 and 2011 GOProud were co-sponsors, but after a dust-up between ACU and other groups with more high level sponsorships, GOProud was dropped from any and all official CPAC events. National Review‘s Dan Foster has a great post arguing the group should be welcomed to the conference and, more broadly, into the movement. While Foster’s points are all well argued and valid, I would argue they are somewhat unnecessary. One conference’s decision has no bearing on GOProud’s membership in the conservative movement on the whole. GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC has given it an incredible amount of exposure and free publicity, raising its profile throughout the movement.
The Conservative Political Action Conference released its second round of invited speakers today, and there’s a surprising name near the top of the list. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited, along with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.
Netanyahu actually spoke at CPAC back in 2001, as Phil Klein pointed out on Twitter. But that was in between premierships, which is a very different case. While Netanyahu will probably already be in Washington for AIPAC’s Policy Conference the week before, and it would be great to see him speak at CPAC, there’s no way it will actually happen. It would be silly for him to attend now, right after being accused of siding with the Mitt Romney campaign and while he still needs to maintain a veneer of cordial relations with President Obama.