This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was like any other in most respects: many political activists with distinct backgrounds came together to discuss and support the ideas of conservatism. But this year, there was one striking feature that separated CPAC 2013 from any previous CPAC: liberty.
From a gay rights panel hosted by a libertarian think tank called the “Competitive Enterprise Institute” to appearances by the founder of Students for Liberty (Alexander McCobin) and the executive director of Young Americans for Liberty (Jeff Frazee), CPAC embraced freedom in many ways.
When various politicians were mentioned, those on the left-end of the conservative spectrum (Chris Christie especially) were hissed and booed while those on the right, more-libertarian, end of the spectrum (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jim DeMint, and Mike Lee, among others) were applauded fervently.
In fact, Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) speech, well-attended by conservatives wearing buttons and t-shirts that read “Stand with Rand,” received a standing ovation as he added to the libertarian ambiance of the conference. His speech focused on decreasing tax rates, ending the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial, and balancing the budget — all central tenants of libertarianism.
Rand Paul then spoke on the future of the Republican Party and stated that “The FaceBook generation… are the core of the ‘leave me alone’ coalition….They aren’t afraid of individual liberty.” He went on to say that “The new GOP, the GOP that will win again, will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere.”
The conservative attendees of CPAC cheered these libertarian comments with enthusiasm as Paul went on to exclaim that, “If we are going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP.”
Even the established leaders of the Republican Party seemed to embrace liberty as Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, saluted Rand Paul for his filibuster and said that “I for one applaud this new generation of liberty-minded Republicans.”Ted Cruz later joined in praising Paul and added some libertarian quips of his own with phrases like “freedom works.”
The annual CPAC “straw poll” further attested to a conservative revolution as Rand Paul won the presidential poll. Moreover, conservatives voted in favor of a non-interventionist foreign policy (50% over 34%) and expressed their disapproval of unwarranted drone use in the U.S. If the straw poll is any measure of conservative thought, it almost seems as if conservatives are becoming libertarians.
Of course, there were still many who disliked libertarian ideas and some expressed support for anti-gay marriage laws, foreign aid to Israel and increased military funding. But most attendees opposed these views and there was overwhelming support for decreased taxes, spending and government power.
CPAC 2013 shows a major change in conservatism as it begins to embrace libertarian principles and freedom. Whether or not this will help the “new GOP,” and whether or not this new brand of conservatism will result in positive election results for Republicans remains to be seen, but as conservatives turn to liberty, it becomes increasingly evident that Republicans are experiencing a revolution from within.