Before Rand Paul even arrived at the Gaylord National Harbor convention center in Maryland for his Thursday afternoon CPAC address, the stage was set for his raucous reception. Outside the convention hall, a team of eager young volunteers began passing out t-shirts, stickers, and posters emblazoned with the catchiest political slogan since “Yes We Can.”
“Stand With Rand,” the logo’s white letters read against a red background. Accompanying the words is a black and white silhouette of Paul, the Kentucky Republican’s arms crossed in defiance of drones, profligate federal spending, and would-be violators of civil liberties.
Sarah Harvard, a 19-year-old Paul supporter and American University student, said they’d run out of T-shirts more than an hour before Paul’s speech. They were still distributing plenty of posters, but convention-goers must leave them outside the hall, per CPAC’s rules. At the doors, large piles of red, white and black signs piled up.
Nevertheless, more than a few posters made their way in for the speech. By the time Paul approached the dais (with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blasting through the speakers) the entire crowd was on their feet, nearly half of them waving “Stand with Rand.”
“Who here stands with Rand?” a beaming Paul began. The crowd went nuts. Paul immediately addressed his “stand,” a 13-plus-hour filibuster over the Obama administration’s drone policy. “Now I was told I only get 10 measly minutes. But just in case I brought 14 hours of information,” he said, holding up two thick binders.
“I also came with a message,” Paul said. “A message for the president. A message that is loud and clear. A message that doesn’t mince words.”
“Don’t drone me bro!” shouted a fan, momentarily throwing off the senator before he continued into a 17-minute liberty-soaked speech that focused heavily on the need for the country, and the Republican party, to commit to protecting civil liberties.
“The message for the president is, no one person gets to decide the law,” Paul said. “No one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence. My question to the president was about more than just killing Americans on American soil. My question was about whether presidential power has limits.”
And away he went. Paul touched on the need for military restraint abroad, citing Dwight Eisenhower. “‘How far can you go without destroying from within what you’re trying to defend without?’” Paul said. “If we destroy our enemy and lose what defines our freedom in the process, have we really won?”
Paul, who is widely believed to be considering a presidential run in 2016, had advice for his own party. “The path forward for the Republican party is rooted in respect for the Constitution and respect for the individual,” Paul said. “You can’t protect the Second Amendment if you don’t protect the Fourth Amendment. If we are not secure in our homes, if we are not secure in our persons and our papers, can we really believe that the right to bear arms will be secure? We need to jealously guard all our liberties.”
He implored the GOP to adopt his (and his father’s) brand of libertarian politics or face losing what he called the “Facebook generation.” That includes, Paul said, both ending bailouts for big banks and some form of drug legalization.
“The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away. I know. I have kids,” Paul said. “They are the core, though, of the “leave me alone” coalition. They doubt Social Security will be there for them. They worry about jobs and money and rent and student loans. They want leaders that won’t feed them a line of crap or sell them short. Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the non-violent crime of drug use, and you’ll hear a resounding ‘no.’ Ask the Facebook generation if they want to bail out too-big-to-fail banks with their tax dollars, and you’ll hear a ‘hell no.’”
Taking a shot at the Republican party’s old guard, including an oblique reference to his main intraparty antagonist John McCain, Paul said, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name many names, do we?” That line got a lot of knowing laughs.
Paul concluded his manifesto for the GOP with a final appeal for “liberty.”
“Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom,” he said. “The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sense. If we’re going to have a Republican party, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP. We must have a message that is broad. Our vision must be broad, and that vision must be based on freedom.”