At the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said:
This week at CPAC, the American Conservative Union is honored to host former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Senator Rand Paul, a powerful surrogate for his father Congressman Ron Paul.
Cardenas similarly characterized Rand Paul as representing his dad in a press conference before his speech. It’s easy to see why; contested primaries inject CPAC with a special energy, attracting large (and lucrative) crowds, and the absence of Paul père — ostensibly because of “travel constraints,” though his light schedule undermines this claim — is rather conspicuous (especially coupled with the virtual disappearance of Campaign for Liberty, the organization built from the 2008 Paul campaign that had a huge presence at the last two CPACs but is nowhere to be seen this year). With Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum all scheduled for today, yesterday felt like the calm before a much-anticipated storm.
Paul fils did speak yesterday afternoon, but, Cardenas’s formulation notwithstanding, he didn’t make a case for his father’s campaign. He did give an excellent speech (which you can watch here) attacking President Obama, which, if anything, threw the elder Paul’s shortcomings into sharper relief. After months of rambling performances from Ron Paul both in debates and on the stump, hearing Rand Paul’s fluent delivery of a speech with a coherent theme and structure was a reminder that the son is really in a completely different political league than his father.
Senator Paul’s amendment on aid to Egypt, which Reid noted yesterday, illustrates that this goes beyond stylistic competence. Notice the phrasing in his statement: “Not everyone in this body agrees on foreign policy or on the role of US foreign assistance but the reckless actions of Egyptian authorities in the matter should bring us together[.]” Rand Paul advances his ideas by looking for areas of agreement and building bridges into the political mainstream — while Ron Paul builds bridges to the fringe, whether with racist newsletters in the 80s and 90s or radio appearances with 9/11 conspiracy theorists in the 2000s. It’s not hard to see which approach is more likely to succeed at advancing the libertarian ideals that drive both Pauls.