NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Rand Paul presented old ideas as new ones in his I'm-the-future-of-the-GOP speech to CPAC Thursday, while Marco Rubio presented newish ideas as old ones. Both suggested Republicans have more of a message problem than a policy problem as they spoke before a crowd that felt like an approximately two-to-one ratio of conservatives to reporters reporting the future of the conservatism. Rubio said this most clearly with his biggest applause line: "We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea's called 'America' and it still works."
It is necessary to point out that Rubio's no-new-ideas idea was addressed eight years ago by Jonathan Chait in a New Republic article titled, "The Case Against New Ideas." So we must regretfully note that even the no-new-ideas idea itself is not a new idea. But Rubio does, in fact, have new ideas -- immigration reform, though he didn't mention it, even though every single member of an immigration panel in the very same room a few hours earlier had endorsed those ideas. And Rubio's supposedly old ideas echoed what several conservative writers have insisted the GOP needs to win national elections -- a plan to address stagnant middle class wages and growing health care and education costs. Rubio said cutting the national debt would grow jobs (economists say that's true in the long run, but not the short run), but he also called for addressing student loan debt for children of middle-class parents who make a bit too much to qualify for grants. (Paul Ryan, another 2016 maybe-candidate, proposed cutting Pell Grants in his budget this week.) He called for a job training program. And Rubio suggested health care prices would fall if Americans were able to buy any insurance from any company in the country. Doing this, Rubio said, would grow the GOP by appealing to middle class people who are struggling so much they're susceptible to the liberal argument that "maybe government is the only help."
Rand Paul and Rubio are both on the ballot for CPAC's presidential nomination straw poll. Rubio's former mentor and accidental-immigration-reform undercutter, Jeb Bush, is not. Paul's people were handing out free "STAND WITH RAND" T-shirts in exchange for email addresses, which will come in handy when he needs to find supporters and volunteers for his presidential campaign. During his speech, and in contrast to Rubio, Paul said he could grow the GOP by appealing to young people. "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," Paul said. "I don't think we need to name any names, do we?" But his solution was to return to first principles. "We need to jealously guard our liberties," Paul said, referring to his 13-hour filibuster in opposition to drone strikes on Americans in America. We need to respect the Bill of Rights, he said. "For liberty to expand, government must shrink." Young people will are the core of the "'Leave me alone' coalition." Paul's speech is more quotable, but he had far fewer ideas than Rubio. He proposed a five-year budget that eliminates the Department of Education idea -- a popular idea in the Reagan era -- and cuts taxes. Paul wants the corporate tax rate cut in half and the personal income tax rate a flat tax of 17 percent. The flat tax was the basis of Steve Forbes' presidential candidacy in 1996.
I spoke to Rebecca Downs, a 22-year-old reporter for LiveActionNews.org and an anti-abortion activist, what she thought of the speeches. She liked that both were socially conservative. But she preferred Rubio's. As for Paul's, "It was like the 10-minute version of his filibuster, and I know, because I watched the first 10 minutes of his filibuster."