It was the most hotly anticipated speech of the day — and if you don’t believe me, here’s Charlie Spiering’s video of the standing O that Paul got when he walked out. He had three options here. One: Play it safe by finding common ground. He could have given a speech attacking government spending and all sides of the party would have found it peachy keen. Two: Show the hawks that he’s not his old man. The Crimea standoff is an easy way for him to prove that he’s not a staunch isolationist like Ron Paul is. Problem is, the libertarians who turned out today want him to resist the hawks, and the hawks won’t believe that he sincerely disagrees with his father no matter what he says. Why use an easy lay-up of a speech in front of a very friendly crowd to disappoint people?
So he chose option three: Be the civil libertarian that he is, loud and proud, and unload on the surveillance state. One of the reasons the crowd was so primed is, of course, because Paul fans tend to show in major numbers at CPAC for their guys. It’s their way of flexing a little muscle at a high-publicity event. Ron Paul won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011; Rand himself won it last year and would like to do so again tomorrow. The only thing that could prevent that, realistically, is disappointing his base today. So he didn’t. On the contrary, he chose a particular target of libertarianism that has great currency among grassroots conservatives too, at least for now. Remember this poll? The tea-party numbers are remarkable:
Spending issues aside, there’s no surer way to unify libertarians and conservatives than by attacking the NSA — again, at least for now. (I tend to agree with Phil Klein that this issue carries an expiration date for many Republicans.) And I’m glad to see him staying true to who he is. The GOP primary campaign next year will have something precious that few primaries do, a truly meaningful philosophical debate between different wings of the party. The more Paul veers towards traditional conservative position, the less interesting that debate becomes. Let’s have a real choice, even if it means that some substantial minority on the right ends up feeling very disgruntled about the next nominee. Paul does stand a chance at winning, too: Someone on Twitter today wondered if he is to 2015 what Howard Dean was to 2003 on the left, i.e. a guy whom the base gets revved up for and who falls flat in voting when the rest of the party decides he’s unelectable. If that’s what you believe, you’re not paying attention to the dynamics in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, slowly but surely, he and Ted Cruz are starting to flesh out their differences on foreign policy. Who’s the real Reagan between them? Stay tuned. Exit question: Do we really want future presidents quoting Pink Floyd in major addresses? C’mon, Rand. If you’re going to borrow from classic rock, at least borrow from Zep.