In a possible preview of the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke back-to-back on the main stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday.
Like a comedian testing out a new act, Rubio pitched his message to areas where the post-2012 narrative suggests conservatives turned off voters, fairly or unfairly.
The focus of his speech was the middle class, which he said is being left behind by the global economy and technological innovation. But it’s worth saving, he said.
“Our hardworking middle class is one of the things that makes America different and special from the rest of the world,” he said.
“Every country in the world has rich people. Unfortunately every country in the world has poor people. But few have the kind of vibrant widespread middle class that America does. A widespread middle class that everyone, we have said, should have an equal opportunity to be part of the Middle Class or even better. It sets us apart from the world.”
Rubio also addressed the narrative that the GOP is hostile to science.
“The people who are actually closed minded in American politics are the people that love to preach about the certainty of science in regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception,” he said.
His speech also subtly countered the notion that the GOP is a Randian party composed of people that only care about their own individual needs.
“We do have obligations to each other,” Rubio said, striking a communitarian note.
“In addition to our individual rights, our individual responsibility’s to each other. But not through government, through our community. Through our churches and through our neighborhoods, as parents and neighbors and friends. Those are the best ways in which we can serve our fellow Americans — through voluntary organizations where every single day Americans, from all walks of life, are literally changing the world one day, one life, one neighbor at a time.”
And no Rubio speech after the State of the Union would be complete without a water joke.
After he took a sip of water mid-speech, the audience began to applaud.
“Never in the history of the world has water been so popular,” he said.
Concluding, Rubio sought to anticipate criticisms from the left that he was not promulgating any new ideas, just changing the packaging.
“We don’t need a new idea. The idea is called America and it still works,” he said to massive applause.
In contrast to Rubio’s fire, Paul took a calmer and professorial tone.
Coming to the podium with two massive binders, Paul said he was only given 10 minutes to speak, but he came prepared with material to go for 13-hours.
Speaking to his 13-hour filibuster, Paul said he came to CPAC with a message from the president.
“No one person gets to decide the law. No one gets to decide your guilt or innocence,” he said.
Paul went on to address his critics.
“To those who would dismiss this debate as frivolous, I say tell that to the heroic young men and women who sacrifice their limbs and lives,” he said. “Tell them the Bill of Rights is no big deal.”
Paul went on to speak about the need to cut spending and address the concerns of the Facebook generation who don’t think people should be thrown in jail for smoking marijuana or that the U.S. should bail out banks.
“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered,” he said, concluding his speech.
“Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom. The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere.”
“Liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP” if the Republican Party is to win, he added.