By Alexandra Jaffe - 03/14/13 06:17 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday told conservative activists the Republican Party had grown "stale and moss covered" and said the GOP needs a more libertarian approach that makes freedom the movement's defining principle.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name any names, do we? 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," Paul said.
"If we're going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP. We must have a message that is broad, our vision must be broad, and that vision must be based on freedom."
Paul has publicly clashed with more senior Republicans over the past two weeks, notably Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Graham and McCain blasted Paul for mounting a 12-hour filibuster of President Obama's CIA nominee, John Brennan, over the administration's drone policy.
McCain called the filibuster a stunt meant to "fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms." Paul fired back at McCain and Graham, two leading Republican defense hawks, saying the senators "think the whole world is a battlefield.”
Paul is seen as the successor to his father's libertarian legacy, and many Republicans believe he could find the success on the national stage that eluded his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Where his father appealed to a more narrow slice of the GOP, mainly libertarian supporters, Paul is seeking to expand his father's appeal and message outside his base.
Still, he used his CPAC speech to make a strong pitch for conservatives to more fully embrace libertarian ideals.
"The path forward for the Republican Party is rooted in respect for the Constitution and respect for the individual," he said at one point.
"The Republican Party has to change by going forward to the classical and timeless ideas enshrined in our Constitution. When we understand that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then we'll become the dominant national party again," he said.
Paul at times seemed to be directly responding to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who spoke immediately before him at CPAC.
Rubio is considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and Paul has said he is "seriously" weighing a White House bid.
Where Rubio argued that the Republican Party doesn't "need a new idea," and that "the idea's called America and it still works," Paul proposed a path forward for the GOP based on a number of largely libertarian issues that are beginning to pick up steam within the party.
He announced that he will be revealing a five-year balanced-budget plan later this month that would eliminate the Department of Education, a proposal that received roaring applause, and would cut corporate taxes and regulations.
Paul made clear that while he's working towards an expanded role in the GOP, he's aware that the coalition of voters that supported his father in his presidential bid — largely young libertarians — remain the central pillar of his political future.
To strong applause, he touted the importance of the "Facebook generation."
"The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away. They are the core, though, of the leave-me-alone coalition," he said.
Though Paul made a well-received pitch to expand upon that pillar at CPAC, there was some evidence that conservative activists see some aspects of his vision as being outside the mainstream of the party.
His speech got off to a slow start, with a focus on drones that fell somewhat flat with the audience. His references to more nuanced libertarian beliefs — like the importance of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure — received scattered, polite applause.
However, he closed with a reference to his filibuster, which raised his national profile and made his CPAC speech one of the event's most anticipated.
The filibuster sparked a hashtag, #StandWithRand, that has since featured prominently on bumper stickers, pins and bright red T-shirts, which RAND PAC has been passing out at the conference, in exchange for supporters' contact information.
Like Rubio before him, and to the surprise of many, Paul made no mention of immigration reform, an issue considered to be a necessary centerpiece of the Republican Party agenda going forward.
Proposing that the GOP must stand for something "so powerful and so popular" that it has bipartisan appeal, Paul closed pledging to stand for Americans.
"I will stand for them ... I will stand for our prosperity and our freedom, and I ask everyone who values liberty to stand with me," he said.
Paul exited the stage to a standing ovation, and chants of "Stand with Rand."