CPAC -- At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), two closely watched candidates delivered speeches that are likely to indicate how the Republican presidential nomination process will advance.
Conducted in a question and answer format with radio talk show host Sean Hannity on Friday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush orated on the importance of offering constructive solutions on health care, immigration, and education. Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul also spoke on Friday to repeated cheers of "President Paul."
Throughout the early stages of a presumed Bush campaign, the former governor has insisted that he is his "own man," in contrast to his father and brother. However, despite many appeals that he is conservative, Bush showed some signs he is borrowing from the ideas of his family's administrations.
Bush, who recently said he "doesn't understand" why there is a debate about NSA policies, engaged in rhetoric implying that he will be hawkish on foreign policy. Reiterating that the party needs to be "for something," Bush said the GOP must first favor:
"...a strong national defense, where we are committed each and every day to protect the homeland, with these asymmetric threats that exist that are real. It's not a joke. These are threats that don't just have an impact in the neighborhood in the Middle East or certainly have an impact on Israel. It impacts us as well."
Bush said he would keep the U.S. engaged in the Middle East, including a prolonged military presence, saying, "As we pull back, voids are filled. Iraq is the best example of that."
Bush also endorsed several ideas from the hawks of his party, including creating a "safe zone for a Free Syrian Army," as well as not putting conditions for "boots on the ground" to combat ISIS. He also reaffirmed that there should be "no light between us and Israel."
Representing anpther option for the GOP, Sen. Rand Paul came out to cheers and opened by saying, "When politicians accept censorship, when politicians accept torture, even of the innocent, then lovers of liberty must rise."
Whereas Bush said the American presence in Iraq needed to remain, Paul pointed out that it is American foreign policy that has often promoted chaos and dysfunction. In repeatedly attacking the situation in Libya as "Hillary's War," Paul said:
"In the Middle East, one form of tyranny often replaces another. When secular despots are overthrown, chaos ensues and radical Islam grows stronger."
Rather than implying a long-term commitment for addressing Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, Paul reasoned with his fellow conservatives to consider their philosophy as a whole:
"We also need a foreign policy that encourages stability, not chaos. At home, conservatives understand that government is the problem, not the solution. But as conservatives, we should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow be successful abroad."
After the speech Paul received a question that is likely to come up numerous times if he runs for president: Is he too weak or soft on foreign policy? Paul succinctly answered, "The Constitution says, when we go to war, it should be declared and initiated by Congress."On Thursday, ahead of Paul's speech, the Human Action Super PAC released a video on its website,
Rand16.org, titled "Break the Mold," featuring various examples of Rand Paul rising above party label to stand for liberty. The super PAC is trying to build support for a Rand Paul presidential campaign before the election cycle really kicks off.
Paul's message over the last few months has not only centered on liberty, but a need for change in the GOP. Ahead of the midterm elections, Paul was quoted as saying the Republican brand sucks. He has since emphasized the need for the party to rebrand its image.
Along with his more libertarian views on foreign policy, Paul told the attendees at CPAC that Republicans and conservatives need to be willing to defend more of the Constitution than just the Second Amendment.
At the conclusion of the conference, Rand Paul won the CPAC presidential straw poll for the third consecutive year. Commentators have pointed out that the straw poll victory says little for Paul's viability as a presidential candidate, as few winners go on to claim the nomination. A Bush victory, or even a stronger showing, might have sent a message that conservatives were resigned to his candidacy.
Rand Paul's victory and Scott Walker's second place finish indicate that the race for the nomination will be strongly contested and that GOP voters may be looking for a change.