COMMENTARY | The 2013 gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) has ended and, more interestingly, held the first mainstream straw poll on which conservative figure should be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. According to Yahoo! News, an upset victory can be claimed by archconservative Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator who is son of frequent presidential candidate Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning former U.S. representative from Texas. Winning 25 percent of the vote, Rand triumphed over the more media-popular politician Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who garnered 23 percent of the vote. What does Rand beating Rubio signal for the struggling Republican Party?
First and foremost, it signals a desire for aggression. Rand Paul is far more known for antics, ranging from outspoken opinions to filibusters on the Senate floor, than soft-spoken Marco Rubio. Paul is more of a hothead than his Floridian colleague, who is often touted as a cool-and-collected uniter rather than a divider. Rubio’s main claim to fame is his unique ability to attract Hispanics to the Republican Party by using his own Cuban heritage, fluency in Spanish, and championing of immigration reform. Paul, by comparison, is more of a direct opponent to Democratic president Barack Obama, famously challenging the president’s nominee for CIA director and use of unmanned drones within U.S. borders, reports the Washington Post.
So CPAC voters prefer an outspoken filibusterer to a soft-spoken immigration champion. This reveals anger over a narrow 2012 presidential election loss and, for better or worse, no desire to tack toward the center and appeal to moderates and independents. The GOP is doubling down on its opposition to Obama liberalism, choosing the more aggressive of its two leading senators to hold the Republican torch. And, by choosing Rand over Rubio, the CPAC voters are signalling that they don’t want to risk diluting their conservative messages by applauding immigration reform. They want no confusion – the GOP is staunch and pure, not wavering on long-held beliefs regarding border control and immigration.
Could the CPAC vote be a blow for Rubio and his supporters? Perhaps. Rubio went into the convention with much more media following than Paul, but he still lost. Does this mean that many conservatives are willing to applaud immigration reform in public but will actually stick to their anti-immigrant guns in the privacy of the voting booth? Only time will tell, but Rubio should be worried.