Rand Paul Is the King of CPAC

One year after his filibuster, the Paul love at CPAC is stronger than ever.

Students pose for a photograph with a lifesize cutout photo of Sen. Rand Paul at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
March 7, 2014, 10:38 a.m.

NA­TION­AL HAR­BOR, Md. — A year after his 13-hour fili­buster won the hearts of young con­ser­vat­ives just a week ahead of the 2013 Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, the fan­dom for Sen. Rand Paul here has only grown.

Paul gave a speech Fri­day be­fore the first stand­ing-room-only crowd at the con­fer­ence so far, ask­ing a cheer­ing audi­ence, “Will you, Amer­ica’s next gen­er­a­tion of liberty-lov­ers, will you stand and be heard?”

Fol­low­ing his typ­ic­al style, Paul’s speech fo­cused largely on per­son­al free­dom, the Fourth Amend­ment, and rights he al­leged are be­ing usurped by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, while avoid­ing the tricky top­ic of for­eign policy, where his liber­tari­an views are not as widely ac­cep­ted by con­ser­vat­ives here.

Paul’s biggest ap­plause line of the af­ter­noon — the biggest ap­plause line at CPAC so far — came dur­ing his dis­cus­sion of what he per­ceived as Pres­id­ent Obama’s fail­ures, par­tic­u­larly at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency. “As our voices rise in protest, the NSA mon­it­ors your every phone call. if you have a cell phone, you are un­der sur­veil­lance. I be­lieve what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn busi­ness,” he said to loud cheers.

Paul con­tin­ued an as­sault on Obama’s re­cord, get­ting laughs when he asked how his­tory will re­mem­ber the pres­id­ent, and later quot­ing Pink Floyd front­man Ro­ger Wa­ters in ask­ing wheth­er former sup­port­ers of the pres­id­ent now be­lieved they had “trade[d] your her­oes for your ghosts? “¦ Did they get you to ex­change a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

“I don’t ques­tion Pres­id­ent Obama’s motives,” Paul ad­ded, “but his­tory will re­mem­ber his tim­id de­fense of liberty.”

Like his fath­er, who was known to pack con­ser­vat­ive con­fer­ences with sup­port­ers, the young­er Paul has shown a strik­ing abil­ity to bring in en­gaged act­iv­ists. In the packed hall­ways of the Gaylord Na­tion­al Re­sort and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter over the last two days, the bright red-and-black “Stand With Rand” gear eas­ily over­shad­ows the few dozen Ted Cruz stick­ers and Ben Car­son but­tons ad­orn­ing at­tendees’ lapels.

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Paul’s team didn’t have its own booth at CPAC this year, but the Young Amer­ic­ans for Liberty — which sold “I Stand With Rand” shirts and gave away stick­ers and posters — was eas­ily the most crowded of the booths at this year’s event, with dozens of largely young con­ser­vat­ives wait­ing pa­tiently in line for their Rand gear throughout the con­fer­ence up to now. An­oth­er group in­stalled a life-sized cutout of the sen­at­or for photo ops, an hon­or that was only ac­cor­ded to Paul and Wil­li­am F. Buckley.

Young Amer­ic­ans for Liberty Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Jeff Fraz­ee said that the booth was even more packed than at last year’s event. The group gave away each and every one of the 1,100 T-shirts they brought with them by early Fri­day af­ter­noon, Fraz­ee said. The group’s goal be­fore the event was to sell 250 CPAC tick­ets through their web­site, he ad­ded. They sold more than 460.

Posters aren’t al­lowed in­to the main ball­room where Paul took the stage Fri­day af­ter­noon, but even an hour be­fore his speech more than 30 “Stand With Rand” signs were ly­ing on the floor out­side the en­trance, hav­ing been con­fis­cated by se­cur­ity staff. Sev­er­al made it in­to the room, though, thanks in part to a few Young Amer­ic­ans for Liberty vo­lun­teers who guided act­iv­ists in how best to hide their signs to hold up dur­ing the speech.

Paul’s book is eas­ily the best-selling title this year, ac­cord­ing to vo­lun­teers man­ning CPAC’s book­store, and his book-sign­ing event Fri­day af­ter­noon was crowded with act­iv­ists dressed in full “Stand With Rand” gear.

And stand they did. As Paul wrapped up on Fri­day, he re­minded the audi­ence of his pop­u­lar fili­buster to a stand­ing ova­tion. “It’s a time for bold­ness and ac­tion. The time is now. Stand with me, stand to­geth­er for liberty,” he said, be­fore ex­it­ing the stage.

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