So much for the GOP's youth outreach
Gollowing up on David's post below, I think this is just fascinating. Dave Weigel reports from the Rand Paul rally --- er, CPAC, on these fault lines in the GOP:
[The]conference also skews libertarian, more and more every year since Ron Paul ran for president (2008) and Rand Paul went to the U.S. Senate (2010). Large-print placards around the conference center warn attendees not to distribute “campaign material.” Stretch your legs and you’ll see a half-dozen students wearing STAND WITH RAND T-shirts, bright red, decorated with silhouettes of the Brillo-haired Kentuckian.
Oh my. What a conundrum. These baby libertarian Republicans who care so much about the freedom to not pay taxes and carry a gun don't seem to have groked what the Republican Party really is. Paul is, literally, a party of one.
In that same 2013 poll, CPAC-ers were asked whether their “most important goal” in politics was to “promote individual freedom” or to “secure and guarantee American safety at home and abroad.” Seventy-seven percent chose liberty. Eight percent, basically a rounding error, pushed the hawk button.
And now, Russia was starting a small war. Conservatives had been hating the Russians long before they had been Standing With Rand. All day Thursday, the thousands who packed into CPAC’s main ballroom heard their movement’s icons cry out against isolationism. They’d known foreign adventurism and intervention as Obama policies, blights on both parties, not part of the Republican Party they were rebuilding. They were being tested, and by people who claimed to know much more about how the party should defend America.
“Can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin?” asks onetime UN Ambassador John Bolton, one of the only representatives of the George W. Bush administration to show at CPAC. “Reagan called a strong defense budget the ‘vital margin of safety.’ We are losing that vital margin all around the world. … Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.”
If you’re Standing With Rand, that’s never worried you. The senator had supported the forced cuts of sequestration, encouraging his colleagues to “jettison some of the crap” in the defense budget and live with lower spending levels. If you’re, say, a 21-year-old CPAC attendee, you were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. You were 8 years old on Sept. 11, and maybe 10 for the start of the war in Iraq. You’ve never been a hawk.
And at CPAC, you’re seeing the hawks sprint back into the spotlight. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio uses his Thursday speech to rally conservatives in a global fight against “totalitarianism.” Afterward, he tells the New York Times that “there are forces within our party, there have always been in American politics, that basically say, ‘Who cares what happens everywhere else? Just mind our own business.’”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ventures from the main conference to an alternative all-day meeting of hawks—itself, a sign of how much ground has been lost to the libertarians—and explains how he differs with Paul. Sure, the Kentucky senator was right about Syria, but the hawks were right about Iran.
“When Iran describes Israel as the Little Satan,” he says, “and America as the Great Satan, we have every interest to make sure they don’t acquire the weaponry to kill millions of Americans.”
Cruz and 42 other Republican senators had signed on to new sanctions against Iran. Paul had not.
On Friday, Paul arrived at CPAC for a full day of movement building. Around noon, he was scheduled to talk to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, so his advance team encourages Stand With Randers to get Paul in full view of the camera. Hassan Sheikh, 26, a law student who runs Nebraska’s branch of Young Americans for Liberty, talks about Ukraine while the shot is being blocked.
How confusing. Weigel then interviews Rand Paul's former staffer "the Southern Avenger" who explains that conservatives don't understand that it's wrong to be hostile to Russia because they are human beings just like us. (Unlike say, African Americans ...)
“We’ve got to make sure we’re not goading ourselves into yet another expensive adventure in a foreign country,” he says, wearing a Stand With Rand shirt over a white shirt and tie. “Our allies in Europe and Asia don’t need us the way they used to. It’s absolutely preposterous that we have more than 440 military bases all across the world. That’s just an expense that taxpayers don’t need.”
Paul arrives, talks, and leaves, so he can be guided to a crowded book signing in CPAC’s exhibit hall. Aaron and Elizabeth Littlefield, aged 21 and 18 and newly married, come away with valuable copies of Paul’s Government Bullies. They didn’t follow politics when the war in Iraq began; they have only really paid attention to the Obama foreign policy. And they don’t like it.
“Obama’s foreign policy has shown the United States to be weak—that we don’t want to do anything,” says Elizabeth. “Countries don’t take our red lines seriously. We are starting to lose our standing.”
“Ron Paul was a staunch isolationist,” says Aaron, “whereas Rand Paul does believe we live in an international community. That’s one of the big differences between supporters of Ron and Rand.”
Rand's big speech was received with wild applause --- but the only foreign policy question he addresses is the use of drones to kill Americans, which his followers don't like.
Actually they don't know what to think. They have, as Weigel points out, come of age during the Iraq war, which nobody likes now, and the Obama administration which they loathe with every fiber of their being. They are unacquainted with the GOP's traditional love for their own hatred of enemies abroad.
But they're coming around:
“I was in middle school when the Iraq war started,” he says. “I didn’t think much of it. As I got older, I figured going over there wasn’t the best idea.”
It's in the DNA.
“It’s kind of indicative of this entire administration,” he says. “Foreign policy’s been put on the back burner. When Romney got criticized for bringing up Russia, I think that was a key moment.”
I know that people like to think that Rand Paul can bring in a new generation with his libertarian ideas. And maybe a little re-brand will be helpful in getting some of the younger white guys to get ininvolved with a party that is majority geriatric. (They have plenty in common, after all --- mutual loathing of doing anything for people who don't look like them and a belief that the country should be run only by rich white guys.) But a hawkish foreign policy is a major organizing principle on the American right and has been since WWII. I doubt it's going to change. It's certainly possible that it could change. But let's just say that it's a long shot. Young white, conservative guys, as a group, tend to like wars. They just need one of their own.