NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Rand Paul presented old ideas as new ones in his I'm-the-future-of-the-GOP speech to CPAC Thursday, while Marco Rubio presented newish ideas as old ones. Both suggested Republicans have more of a message problem than a policy problem as they spoke before a crowd that felt like an approximately two-to-one ratio of conservatives to reporters reporting the future of the conservatism. Rubio said this most clearly with his biggest applause line: "We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea's called 'America' and it still works."
It is necessary to point out that Rubio's no-new-ideas idea was addressed eight years ago by Jonathan Chait in a New Republic article titled, "The Case Against New Ideas." So we must regretfully note that even the no-new-ideas idea itself is not a new idea. But Rubio does, in fact, have new ideas -- immigration reform, though he didn't mention it, even though every single member of an immigration panel in the very same room a few hours earlier had endorsed those ideas. And Rubio's supposedly old ideas echoed what several conservative writers have insisted the GOP needs to win national elections -- a plan to address stagnant middle class wages and growing health care and education costs. Rubio said cutting the national debt would grow jobs (economists say that's true in the long run, but not the short run), but he also called for addressing student loan debt for children of middle-class parents who make a bit too much to qualify for grants. (Paul Ryan, another 2016 maybe-candidate, proposed cutting Pell Grants in his budget this week.) He called for a job training program. And Rubio suggested health care prices would fall if Americans were able to buy any insurance from any company in the country. Doing this, Rubio said, would grow the GOP by appealing to middle class people who are struggling so much they're susceptible to the liberal argument that "maybe government is the only help."
I spoke to Rebecca Downs, a 22-year-old reporter for LiveActionNews.org and an anti-abortion activist, what she thought of the speeches. She liked that both were socially conservative. But she preferred Rubio's. As for Paul's, "It was like the 10-minute version of his filibuster, and I know, because I watched the first 10 minutes of his filibuster."