Rand Paul, This Isn’t Your Father’s CPAC

Rand Paul is still a fan favorite here. But attendees were roused by invocations of President Obama’s weakness on national security.

Sen. Rand Paul signs an autograph during a book signing at CPAC, 2015. 
National Journal
Feb. 27, 2015, midnight

The Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Com­mit­tee has al­ways fea­tured a young­er, more-liber­tari­an audi­ence than typ­ic­al GOP gath­er­ings, and Rand Paul has been a crowd fa­vor­ite for his oc­ca­sion­ally un­ortho­dox views. But in a de­par­ture from past con­fer­ences, nearly all of the loudest ap­plause lines came when speak­ers ar­tic­u­lated the threat of rad­ic­al Is­lam and in­voked their sup­port for Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu in his spat with the White House.

Carly Fior­ina re­ceived the con­fer­ence’s first stand­ing ap­plause when she thundered that Net­an­yahu “travels here next week not to of­fend our pres­id­ent, but to warn the Amer­ic­an people that our pres­id­ent’s in­sist­ence on a deal with Ir­an at all costs is a danger to the world.” Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal spent an en­tire sec­tion of his speech lam­bast­ing Pres­id­ent Obama for avoid­ing call­ing Is­lam­ic ter­ror­ism by its name. His biggest ap­plause line came when he called on the United States to “hunt down and kill these rad­ic­al Is­lam­ic ter­ror­ists.” Even Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er, who hasn’t fo­cused too much on for­eign policy, ad­jus­ted his stump speech to note that his con­ten­tious battles with uni­ons in his home state gives him ample pre­par­a­tion to take on IS­IS.

The red-meat speeches came on a day when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­liv­er­ing mixed sig­nals over wheth­er the coun­try is fa­cing a grow­ing ter­ror­ist threat—an is­sue that’s emer­ging as a ser­i­ous Demo­crat­ic vul­ner­ab­il­ity for 2016. James Clap­per, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dir­ect­or of na­tion­al in­tel­li­gence, test­i­fied be­fore Con­gress today that last year was the “most leth­al year for ter­ror­ism” since stat­ist­ics were com­piled 45 years ago. That con­trasts with a more-op­tim­ist­ic as­sess­ment from Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry Wed­nes­day that the scope of the ter­ror­ist threat was be­ing over­stated. This, as a new Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll shows Re­pub­lic­ans hold­ing siz­able, grow­ing leads over Demo­crats on ter­ror­ism (20 points) and na­tion­al se­cur­ity (16 points). The sur­vey marks the first time Re­pub­lic­ans have held a sol­id edge on “mak­ing wise de­cisions on for­eign policy” for the first time since 2002—be­fore the war in Ir­aq.

But not all of the Re­pub­lic­ans were as pre­pared as oth­ers. Walk­er re­ceived the most en­thu­si­ast­ic re­sponse of all the GOP speak­ers, but his lines on na­tion­al se­cur­ity fell flat with many con­ser­vat­ives. “If I can take on 100,000 pro­test­ers, I can take on the rest of the world,” he said, re­fer­ring to his clashes with labor. That promp­ted Na­tion­al Re­view‘s Jim Ger­aghty to call the line a “genu­ine un­forced er­ror.”

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie spent more time swip­ing at The New York Times than the Is­lam­ic State in his in­ter­view with talk-show host Laura In­gra­ham. Talk­ing tough is a ma­jor part of the Christie brand, and the gov­ernor missed an op­por­tun­ity to de­liv­er a red-meat speech fo­cused on the ter­ror­ist threat to im­prove his flag­ging con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials. (In fair­ness, In­gra­ham’s ques­tions fo­cused on his per­son­al­ity and im­mig­ra­tion, but Christie se­lec­ted the format.)

For his part, Rand Paul will be speak­ing Fri­day morn­ing, and ac­cord­ing to pre­views, he’s ex­pec­ted to fo­cus less on for­eign policy than his coun­ter­parts. In an in­ter­view with Politico, he slammed Jeb Bush for sup­port­ing Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sur­veil­lance meth­ods de­signed to track ter­ror­ist activ­ity. “If he’s smart, he won’t bring that [is­sue] up at CPAC,” Paul said. He earli­er told Ya­hoo’s Katie Cour­ic that he’s not will­ing to send Amer­ic­an troops in­to battle if the loc­al forces aren’t pre­pared, call­ing in­stead for bet­ter arm­ing the Kur­d­ish pesh­merga troops.

Paul nev­er was go­ing to win over the mus­cu­lar ele­ments of the Re­pub­lic­an Party, and he’s still a strong con­tender to win the group’s straw poll. But with the GOP hawks ex­per­i­en­cing a re­sur­gence as fears over ter­ror­ism grow, oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates have the chance to make in­roads by ar­tic­u­lat­ing tough cri­ti­cisms against the pres­id­ent’s for­eign policy. When the audi­ence at CPAC starts sound­ing more like the crowd at AIPAC, it’s clear the polit­ic­al winds are shift­ing.

What We're Following See More »
Dept. of Education Opens Probe into College Admissions Scandal
9 hours ago
House Intel Postpones Testimony by Felix Sater
12 hours ago
McConnell Blocks Vote on Making Mueller Report Public
12 hours ago
Nadler Intends to Call Barr to Testify
20 hours ago
Mueller: No Evidence of Collusion
1 days ago

"The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr. The summary also said that the special counsel’s team lacked sufficient evidence to establish that President Trump illegally obstructed justice, but added that Mr. Mueller’s team stopped short of exonerating Mr. Trump." Read Barr's summary here.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.