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Rand Paul Has Seen the Future of the GOP -- And It's Him

Following his father's tradition, Paul won the CPAC presidential straw poll. The Republican Party needs to change, the Kentucky senator said, and he's aiming to change it in his own image.

Photo Credit: © Jenny Warburg


UPDATE (March 16, 2013): Rand Paul won CPAC's annual presidential straw poll with 25 percent of the vote, just two points ahead of Marco Rubio, who clocked in with 23 percent. All other contenders won only single digits. The CPAC electorate was 66 percent male, 34 percent female, with 52 percent of those voting between the ages of 18 and 25.

Building on his media-star momentum coming out of last week's 13-hour drone-focused  filibuster, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference that put on display the tensions currently plaguing the Republican Party, and made a play for the party's future base, which he called the Facebook generation.

Paul at times seemed to befuddle the older breed of social conservatives in the audience while simultaneously delighting a vocal crowd of young people who held aloft professionally printed placards provided by the Ron Paul youth group,  Young Americans for Liberty, emblazoned with the slogan, "Stand With Rand" in black lettering against a red background, and decorated with a silhouetted drawing of their hero.  (During Paul's filibuster, designed to delay the nomination vote for John Brennan, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, his Twitter fans deployed the hashtag,  #StandWithRand.)

Riding high on the buzz his "talking filibuster" created, Paul wasted no time reminding the crowd of his triumph. "They told me I had a measly 10 minutes," he said upon his arrival at the podium. "So, just in case, I brought 13 hours of material," he joked, holding up two fat loose-leaf binders. He went on to talk for nearly 20 minutes.

Confusion Among the Elders

When Paul dug into his views on civil liberties, he drew only polite applause from the grown-ups in the audience, while the kids clapped loudly. But when the talk turned to punishing Egypt for its citizens' burning of an American flag, or to Paul's proposed 17-percent across-the-board tax cut, or eliminating the Department of Education, or protecting the Second Amendment, the generations drew together with enthusiastic applause. 

Among the lines that fell flat among the older folks were Paul's contention that executive power needs to be kept in check, and that the president should not be permitted to name American citizens as "enemy combatants," which created conditions by which they could be "droned" or "indefinitely detained" without a trial. He said that Obama has  signed into law a bill that would do just that, though he didn't name the law.

As he opened his speech, Paul said his filibuster was intended as a message to the president. A heckler piped up: "Don't drone me, bro!"

"He just boiled down my speech to three words," Paul responded.

"If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it that our brave young men and women are fighting for?" he asked.

Politics of the Future and All That Crap

While most media focused on the optics, the joke and the filibuster, Rand Paul's speech was far more important than the politics of the moment; it was focused on the future. Though he framed it, towards the end, as a disquisition on the future of the Republican Party, it was as much a speech about the future of Rand Paul.

Paul may run for president in 2016, as he told  Politico just hours after ending his filibuster, but he likely doesn't expect to win in that year. But 2020 or 2024? One of those is likely his target.  And in order to do that, he needs to change the Republican Party. Enter the Facebook generation.

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