There were some fascinating takeaways from the just-completed 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Rand Paul won the presidential straw poll for the second year in a row, up six points from last year to win going away with 31 percent.
His win is no surprise, since the CPAC crowd is thick with younger libertarian-leaning Republicans, many of whom fancied his famously libertarian father, former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The younger Paul’s rousingly well-received CPAC 2014 speech and big poll win come as he continues expressing inherently progressive positions about endangered civil liberties.
“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!”
The same goes for foreign policy. In a new op-ed piece, Paul challenges GOP conservatives who’ve been bashing Obama for “weakness” and calling for “action” against Russia.
“What we don’t need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers.”
The problem for and with Paul is, his libertarian positions go way too far, like abolishing the Federal Reserve and Department of Education. Then there’s the hypocrisy of a supposed champion of individual freedoms and civil liberties being a strong opponent of women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality rights.
Speaking of hypocrisy, CPAC 2014’s schedule featured plenty more from other GOP presidential wannabes, including Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz.
Most interesting there was Rubio’s focus on the kind of foreign policy chest-beating that Paul derides in his op-ed. Florida’s junior senator then got a miserable 6 percent, sixth place finish in the straw poll, down 17 points from last year’s second-place showing.
Then there were the ever-popular sideshow attractions, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, who make has-beens like Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee sound positively progressive and high-minded…well, high-minded.
Here’s what the former Miss Alaska told a cheering crowd about Obama:
“He promised us a safe peaceful world, promised he’s got al-Qaeda on the run, yeah, perhaps toward us…Man, that’s just like a liberal on gun control, Mr. President, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”
While Paul may never succeed in getting the GOP presidential nomination, he succeeds in making Palin sound stupider.
And, he can make electoral life difficult for whomever the party’s 2016 “establishment” nominee is…which brings us to a last takeaway from CPAC 2014 – the absentee.
Turns out, a CPAC 2013 keynote speaker quietly cited “previously scheduled business commitments”.
With Rubio faded and Christie tainted, no-show Jeb Bush remains the savviest if not smartest guy in today’s GOP, poised to be the party’s “mainstream” 2016 candidate.
Bush knows he can leave the libertarians to Paul, the wackos to Palin and Cruz (some ticket, huh?), and still win. At CPAC 2013, he pushed for a new party strategy:
“This means that we must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate. Never again can the Republican Party simply write off entire segments of our society…”
The crowd did not clap, much less cheer. But Bush wasn’t speaking to them as much as to a national audience of moderate conservatives; Republicans, independents and Democrats alike, white and black, Hispanic and Latino, Asian and Caribbean, straight and gay.
And he was speaking loudly to them again, by not speaking at CPAC 2014.
Watch out, Hillary.
A New York University graduate, Daniel Tilson owns a Boca Raton-based firm, Full Cup Media, offering “a la carte” and custom-bundled packages of communication services.