Many seemed to think so.
If CPAC were a music festival, Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan might be the headliner, butRand Paul would be the obscure indie band-turned-newly-hip main attraction. The senator from Kentucky’s now-infamous filibuster last week seems to have done for Paul what “coming out” did for Frank Ocean. Leaders of many of the young Republican groups considered a staple at the conservative conference said they observed an increase in young attendees, many of them undoubtedly here to stand with Rand.
Give Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) points for timing: the 2013 Conservative Political Action Committee is shaping up to be a libertarian victory lap… The libertarian domination of CPAC follows years of growing support at the annual conference starting from the final years of the George W. Bush administration, forming a schism in the Republican Party the GOP has yet to repair. And after the defeat of Mitt Romney, who won the nomination on the support of establishment conservatives, the insurgent and fiercely independent groups have claimed this CPAC as their time to shine.
Indeed, the libertarian crowd has been increasingly vocal at Obama-era CPACs—Ron Paul has routinely won the annual straw poll—but this year, the Rand Paul Brigades look something like an occupying force. Everywhere one turns, there are “Stand With Rand” signs, stickers, and T-shirts (a volunteer told me he had handed out a thousand shirts in just over two hours).
There’s a new crowd in town, and when they’re not shouting over Rand Paul, they’re standing up for him. And as they fill the halls of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, they will help debate the GOP’s ideological future after its second consecutive defeat in search of the White House… for every Marco Rubio sticker on the floor, there seemed to be ten for Rand Paul. Signage and apparel for Paul dominated the conference much in the same way that passion for Rand’s father Ron Paul has risen in other party gatherings in recent years. Paul supporters were told to leave their “Stand with Rand” signs at the door, but they snuck them in anyway.
Rand Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, a victory that cements his status as a tea-party favorite. Paul, who spoke at CPAC earlier this week, drew the support of many college-age activists and libertarians. Throughout the conference’s hallways, the support for Paul was strong, and his backers handed out “Stand with Rand” posters. Conservative leaders say Paul’s victory is a sign of his popularity within Republican ranks. “I’m glad someone who says bold things is rising,” says Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute. “At a time when many conservatives are reflecting on the future, his views are connecting.”
Signs urging “Stand with Rand” were sprinkled throughout the conference. As Paul appeared on the stage to speak, audience members across the entire ballroom rose to their feet with “Stand With Rand” supporters. Paul exuded passion throughout his speech.
This is but a small sampling of reactions.
I think the inroads libertarians have made at CPAC in recent years can be summarized in one photo. I took this picture of the official backdrop on the main stage. Right below the faces of conservative icons William F. Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly, you might see a familiar logo.
Apparently, the organizers of CPAC think that the Ron Paul rEVOLutionaries who raised hell against the establishment the last few years are now a significant part of the larger conservative movement.
Judging by CPAC 2013, I’d say they’re right.