CPAC 2013: Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and Libertarians

CPAC tries to appeal to conservatives and libertarians. Photo: Alexander McCobin, President of Students for Liberty (Flickr: Gage Skidmore)

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 — As the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) draws near, speculation mounts as to which speaker will emerge as the most viable presidential candidate. Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent filibuster has already jump started debate regarding his potential presidential campaign in 2016.

Underneath the surface, however, lies a deeper dynamic that relates both to CPAC and Paul’s filibuster, the developing relationship between conservatism and libertarianism.

CPAC caters mostly to young attendees, with over half of the 11,000 attendees each year being college students. These young students are often known for their libertarian tendencies, introducing a mounting pressure on the conference to keep them happy. Most conservatives and libertarians share similar economic policy preferences, but there still can be conflict.

When former congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian icon and father of Sen. Rand Paul, won the CPAC Straw Poll for two years in a row, some conservatives were outraged, as Paul’s victory demonstrated the growing polarization of the attendees toward libertarianism.

This year, Ron Paul again drew publicity with the conference when he refused the invitation to speak at CPAC due to a “scheduling conflict.” Some reports claimed Paul wanted a $50,000 speaking fee.

Though libertarians have a considerable presence at CPAC, they clearly do not have control. CPAC is sponsored by the American Conservative Union, the oldest membership-based conservative organization in the United States. The conference still embraces socially conservative positions, as evidenced by their banning of GOProud, a conservative gay-rights group, from the conference.

Although the presidents of libertarian organizations Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty will speak at CPAC, other libertarian organizations are notably absent. One Chicago blogger documents the fading power of libertarianism at the conference. In fact, the International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) that took place just a few weeks ago was characterized by a focus on ideology over politics. In the ISFLC straw poll, the winner was “would not vote.” Many of these young libertarians are disenchanted with the conservative political organization.

It is tough to reconcile many of the conservative/libertarian conflicts on social issues, foreign policy, and drug legalization. CPAC seems to have buckled down this year on conservative stances, while still maintaining a necessary cordial relationship with the largest libertarian student organizations.

Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster seems to have healed these conflicts, even if only temporarily. According to Brian Doherty, the senior editor of the libertarian Reason magazine, “This was a very big deal. In 36 hours, the Republican Party has completely changed.”

Paul’s filibuster symbolized a reintegration of the libertarian and conservative principles, at least for the time being. Though Paul was joined by many mainstream Republican senators, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) referred to Paul as a “wacko bird.”

Doug Stafford, Paul’s chief of staff, is optimistic about Paul’s future contribution to the party: “Rand is one of the only people who can speak to libertarians, social conservatives, as well as your average mainstream Republican voter.”

Paul’s speech at CPAC will likely draw a large crowd and resounding applause, compounded because of his recent filibuster publicity. The overarching conflict between conservatism and libertarianism, however, will take more than 12 hours and 52 minutes to resolve. Hopefully CPAC will play a vital role in continuing to encourage the relationship.

Danny Huizinga will be attending CPAC, where he will live-blog and live-tweet the events there for the Washington Times Communities. You can follow him and stay abreast of CPAC news at @ConsiderAgain and @WTCommunities.


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Danny Huizinga

Danny Huizinga is currently studying at Baylor University, pursuing three business majors in Economics, Finance, and Business Fellows with minors in mathematics and political science. Although originally from the Chicago area, he is a Texas resident. Danny writes a political blog called Consider Again located at consideragain.com and is also syndicated at The College Conservative, RedState, PolicyMic, and the Baylor Lariat.


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