Rand Paul and Rick Perry give 1-2 punch at CPAC
Two much anticipated speeches from leading candidates for the 2016 presidential race delivered at the largest conservative conclave of the year, promised to light a fire on the right that could carry through to November.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry didn't disappoint. First, Rick Perry proved that he can still wow a crowd as he attempted to erase his bungled presidential campaign from 2012 from memory.
"It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government's role. Defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and what the heck, deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays," Perry said, bouncing on his heels and waving his fist, whipping the conservative crowd into a frenzy.
"Get out of the healthcare business. Get out of the education business. Stop hammering industry. Wake the sleeping giant of American enterprise," Perry said to roaring cheers.
The Texas governor has been working to rehab his image with the GOP base since his epic flameout as a 2012 presidential candidate and is mulling another run for president in 2016. While he starts off in a much weaker position than he did four years ago, the CPAC speech proved Perry can still get conservatives excited.
Perry sought to draw a sharp contrast between red-state and blue-state governors.
"Our place in the world is weakened. So I have a simple solution: It's time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas," he said, touting his work and that of other GOP governors.
"We have demonstrated that no state can tax and spend its way to prosperity, but with the right policies, you can grow your way there," Perry continued.
The strong speech didn't go unnoticed.
"My friend Gov. Perry is kind of a tough act to follow this morning," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the next onstage, wryly noted at the beginning of his speech.
Not to be outdone, Paul issued a thundering challenge to attendees to "stand together for liberty."
One of his biggest applause lines seemed specifically geared toward the digital generation that has special resonance in the wake of the ongoing debate over privacy and NSA surveillance.
“I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business,” he said, to extended cheers from the crowd.
It’s that ability -- to invigorate younger Republicans and frame wonky libertarian proposals in accessible terms -- that has made him one of the party's frontrunners for the 2016 presidential race. Paul took first place in last year's CPAC straw poll, and he came out of Friday's speech looking like the clear favorite again.
He avoided foreign policy, which has been a central focus for speakers at this year’s CPAC as the crisis in the Ukraine continues to make headlines. Instead, he touched on libertarian favorites, like the need to protect the Fourth Amendment and the NSA surveillance program, both topics that fired up the crowd.
Paul launched plenty of barbs at President Obama as well, framing him as a president counter to his values.
“I don’t question President Obama’s motives, but history will record his timid defense of liberty,” he said.
The Kentucky senator warned that Obama’s actions in office have set a “precedent … for lawlessness” that could become “nothing short of tyranny.”
“Our future hangs in the balance. We can debate a jobless recovery, an alarming debt, a bothersome and abusive regulatory state. But know this — you can’t have prosperity without freedom,” he said.
Paul drew heavy applause at the close of his speech as he cited his filibuster last year to protest the administration’s use of drone attacks — which, a year ago Thursday, catapulted him into national prominence — and his suit against Obama on the NSA surveillance program, which he said were examples of his own efforts to “take a stand.”
He also issued a rallying cry to the crowd: “The time for boldness and action, the time is now. Let us stand together for liberty."
Perry's performance put him right in the middle of the 2016 conversation. If the party is going to nominate a governor, they are going to take a long look at a rejuvenated Rick Perry.
Rand Paul continues to impress, and he proved at CPAC that he is more than his father's son. In recent weeks, he has sought to clarify his national security and foreign policy positions:
Paul called national defense “the most important thing that the federal government does.”
“But that doesn’t mean we give a blank check to the military. I am for auditing the Pentagon. I am for spending money wisely. I also don’t see things in terms of, we have X dollars to spend on defense. We start with a strategic vision and go from there,” he said.
Interventionists may discover that Paul's positions are more in line with a majority of Republicans than they may imagine.