This account by the Daily Beast's Michael Moynihan highlights the virtual libertarian takeover of CPAC this year and what it means for Rand Paul:
When Rand Paul addresses those issues that divide libertarians and traditional conservatives-national security, the drug war, immigration, gay rights-he does so gingerly, framing them for the CPAC audience. Guantánamo and the drone program, and civil liberties in general, are prefaced with an attack on the Obama administration (cheers!) and an invocation of the "brave young men and women" fighting overseas (louder cheers!). When he attacks the foreign-aid budget, he leaves Israel, the biggest recipient of American largesse, alone and riles the crowd with a reference to Egypt and those who "chant death to America" (rapturous cheers!). Watching Paul work the crowd, a young woman-her demure dress adorned with "Stand With Rand" stickers-pronounced that the senator clearly "loves his country so much." Her companion enthused that Paul was "a rock star."
Ideological ornithologists Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham would be disappointed to find a rather large population of "wacko birds" in the CPAC hall and the once-ascendant neoconservative movement barely represented. After Paul's speech, CPAC convened a panel on Benghazi, the conference's only talk with an explicitly neoconservative bent, and the hall emptied of young activists.
One can debate how representative CPAC is of the conservative movement as a whole, but the libertarian and social conservative wings of the party are eyeing each other warily, with the traditionalists reacting as if they are surrounded. The moderator of Friday's abortion panel framed the debate as one of states' rights (which is how Paul approaches both the abortion and gay marriage issues), finding it necessary to highlight those areas on which "conservatives and libertarians can agree."
In his speech Saturday, Rick Santorum took a different approach, accusing the libertarian faction of undermining real conservatism and chipping away at America's moral foundation. Warning against moderation, he seemed to respond to Ohio Sen. Bob Portman's embrace of same-sex marriage by asking "those in our movement who want to abandon our moral underpinnings, what does it profit a movement to gain the country but lose our own soul?
It seems to me that very slowly, a dialogue is being created between traditional conservatives and libertarians. Some disagreements are so profound they will never be bridged. But a modus vivdendi between traditional, fiscal conservatives and libertarians that might make a Rand Paul nomination possible is being hashed out.
What of social conservatives? In such an arrangement, social issues would be devalued. While they wouldn't disappear, there would almost certainly be less emphasis on them.Or would they?
We've heard that tune before, however, and when 2012 rolled around, abortion and gay marriage were center stage once again. If the GOP wants the energy and money of the evangelical right, they are going to have to pay for it by making social issues a prominent part of the Republican party platform.