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Rand Paul and CPAC matter to the GOP

By Devin Keehner
On March 12, 2014

Dismiss Rand Paul at your own peril. Dismiss the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at all our peril.
Rand Paul has far from won the nomination. In fact he hasn't yet announced he's running, nor has anyone (except Congressman Peter King.) It's a long road to the 2016 presidential elections, but make no mistake, the battle lines are being drawn.Paul's victory over other conservative firebrands at this year's CPAC straw poll - the second such victory in a row - means that Rand Paul will have a place in the 2016 campaign.
As many have pointed out, CPAC is no indication of electoral success - note Rand's father, Ron Paul's own consecutive victories. However, what this poll does mean is Rand has cemented himself as the anti-establishment candidate.
According to Rand's detractors his win means nothing, after all his father won "all the time."
In reality, it was Mitt Romney who won a record four times - just edging out the late great Ronald Reagan.
CPAC, though, due to the miracle of student discounts, has become a harbinger of things to come. It's the young that choose that winner, and it's those same conservatives who will decide the future of the party. Their voices are not to be dismissed by quips about Ron Paul's two victories. Even that is an admission that libertarianism is a big part of the movement's future, and that means the movement must be taken seriously. Remember, what changes one party today will reverberate through the entire nation tomorrow.
There is a reason the Pauls are both well liked at CPAC. If Republicans want to fix their problems with party's youth, they need to ask themselves why.
The answer is simple.
Millennials think the government should spend no more time in their bedrooms than it does in their checkbooks, that the fourth amendment is as sacred as the second, and that we must put a stop to military adventurism, not to retreat from the world, but so that as a nation we will be ready when the world might need us most.
Sure, Rand does not embody all of these positions, or at least not openly. What he has done is headed in the right direction.
That being said, Rand's appeal isn't just hope and change.
Rand Paul is a bridge builder, but he's one that doesn't compromise. He's not a turncoat who caves on issues when the going gets tough. He finds ways of working with the other party that people didn't know existed, making small tweaks to an otherwise stalled system.
Paul the younger has led powerful bipartisan coalitions on issues of civil liberties, drones, NSA spying and the reform of mandatory minimum sentencing. He also know how to fallow, endorsing Sen. Gillibrand's bill that would have helped to protect the men and women who serve in our armed services from sexual assault.
Beyond that he has a strategy. He is the only Republican with real name recognition trying to unite the factions of the Republican Party - as opposed to those seeking to be king of their own ideological wasteland. Paul hasn't stopped there though. He has pushed tirelessly to expand the party's platform beyond the scope of traditional republican voters.
Most importantly, he's learning. He has made mistakes, but he has learned something valuable from each of them. He learned from his father's mistakes, adopting a way to frame arguments in so that more than a narrow fanbase can relate - for instance framing military aid as something that hurts Israel by helping its enemies.
Rand is a better speaker every year. Last year, his Tea Party response to the State of the Union was good, although Rubio did set a low bar. This year, though, his speech was magnetic, and at times even had cross party appeal. He has become calm, collected and pointed.
Paul has come a long way from the Washington outsider destined to follow in his fathers failed footsteps. He has maintained his spot as the Tea Parties leading voice, and has shown an ability to work with establishment Republicans and Democrats alike.
He was never supposed to make it this far. So why not a little further?

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