Among the interesting choices for musical introductions at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) walked out to the menacing, driving intro of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
Coupled with Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) speech just beforehand, the theme song should’ve been “Enter 2016.”
Both senators gave mighty speeches, effortlessly weaving either conservatism with populism or libertarianism with conservatism. Both brought the crowd to its feet. Both were at their personal best in terms of ease, messaging, and humor.
And both, who skipped Obama’s meeting with Senate GOPs for the conference, were inexplicably sandwiched into 15-minute slots on Thursday afternoon of the three-day conference. Tomorrow night, former Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the gala dinner.
Both speeches also came with props. Rubio pulled a tray of water glasses from underneath the podium, laughed and quipped that it was “a bit much.” Midway through his speech, though, his words began to stick in his mouth like during his storied State of the Union response, and he reached down to take a sip.
A sizable chunk of the crowd cheered. “Never in the history of the world has water been so popular,” he responded.
Paul fed off the palpable enthusiasm for last week’s filibuster. “I was told I’d have 10 measly minutes but just in case I brought 14 hours of information,” he said, pulling out two thick binders to the delight of the audience.
His address had the feel of a campaign rally thanks to black-and-red Stand With Rand signs that were handed to the crowd by Paul supporters outside the ballroom.
Paul said he came with a short message for President Obama. “Don’t drone me, bro!” an audience member shouted.
“I think he may have distilled my 13-hour speech into three words,” he quipped. “My question to the president was about more — my question was about whether presidential power has limits.”
The message: When vowing that you’ll defend the Constitution, “good intentions are not enough.”
“The presidential oath of office states I will protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution,” Paul continued. “Mr. President … we want to know, will you or won’t you defend the Constitution?”
“The filibuster was about drones but also about much more: Do we have a Bill of Rights, do we have a Constitution, and will we defend it?”
The potential 2016 candidate, though, sought to introduce himself to the conservative crowd beyond his core constitutional message that has crossed partisan lines in the filibuster fallout, seizing on runaway spending and previewing his upcoming budget introduction.
That includes cutting $3 million in spending to research the effects of methamphetamine — “does it really take three million to discover that monkeys, like humans, act crazy on meth?” — and nixing the robotic squirrel. His budget plan consists of eliminating the Department of Education, giving power and money back to the states, cutting the corporate income tax in half to stimulate job growth, making the income tax a flat 17 percent, and “cutting regulations that are strangling American business.”
Paul also promoted gun rights as essential to the GOP’s constitutional roots. “You can’t protect the Second Amendment if you can’t secure the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “We need to jealously guard all our liberties.”
“The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away,” he added, saying they seek “leaders who won’t sell them a lot of crap or sell them short.”
“We must stand for we something. We must stand together on something so popular that it brings together the left, the right and the middle,” Paul continued. “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered — I don’t think we need to name any names, do we?”
“The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in the economic and personal sphere… we must have a vision that is broad– and that vision must be based on freedom.”
Rubio, who was introduced to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” laid out a vision that included school choice and vocational education and leaned heavily on restoring America’s greatness, but the Gang of Eight member avoided any talk of immigration.
Earlier in the day, an immigration panel was greeted with a lukewarm response and a couple of shouts from the crowd calling it “politically correct.”
“My chances of winning the U.S. Senate were about as much as the chances of winning a papal conclave,” Rubio quipped.
He then launched into a retort of sorts, without directly mentioning it, of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment.
“Our people have not changed,” Rubio said. “The vast majority of the American people are hard-working people who take responsibility for their families.”
“What’s changed is the world around us — the global economy is real. We don’t live in a national economy anymore,” he said, adding that the vast majority of Americans “don’t want to take away from people who have made it — but they wonder who is fighting for them.”
Rubio contended that focus on infighting within the conservative movement is “really a foolish notion.”
“I respect people that disagree with me on certain things; they have to respect me, too,” he said, citing gay marriage and abortion.
Rattling off problems ranging from middle-class jobs to monetary policy and healthcare reform, the senator urged CPAC to “not underestimate the impact that the breakdown of the American family is having.”
“You should be very concerned about student-loan debt,” he also said. “It is the next big bubble in America.”
Rubio framed the next big challenge, though, as not letting China overtake the United States as the world’s superpower. Citing the abysmal human rights record of the People’s Republic, he asked, “We want that to be the leading country in the world? That’s the stakes… the truth of the matter is don’t take this for granted.”
He said liberals complaints about him boil down to “he drank too much water,” and he’s not offering enough ideas.
“We don’t need an idea — the idea is America and it still works,” Rubio said, stressing countries around the world copy the U.S. and are emerging from poverty as a result.
“They may claim to hate us, but they sure would like to be us,” he added.
Senate Republicans on the Hill issued statements thanking Obama for the meeting today but stressing that distance remained on key issues.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have lunch with him today,” Paul panned, then referenced his CPAC speech. “Maybe he’ll be able to see it on C-SPAN.”
(Don’t miss Next Generation’s members-only coverage of CPAC 2013 — featuring former Congressman Allen West and Michelle Fields. Click here to learn more.)