There were drinks in the lobby beforehand. But maybe that wasn't the reason why a hotel conference room packed to the brim with college libertarians was so hyped up Wednesday night at a Young Americans for Liberty convention. Their legislative heroes — the now affectionately named "wacko-bird" caucus of Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas — were there, in the flesh.
And man, did the room erupt like a college football stadium when the three of them — two middle-aged white lawyers and a doctor — entered the room.
These are the libertarians. Or at least that's how they largely present themselves. They are the tea-party-backed politicians who believe passionately in both the freedom from National Security Agency spying and the freedom from paying for government programs. And lately their beliefs and actions have been making more mainstream Republican conservatives — such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — say things to reporters like "this strain of libertarianism that's going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought." That was Christie, who was right in the assertion that libertarian sentiment is growing in the party. At least when it comes to national security, Pew Research recently found that the number of Republicans concerned about civil liberties jumped 18 percent in recent years.
Back in June, I attended another conference with notable Republican speakers (including Sens. Cruz and Paul), but with a much different theme. It was the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to the Majority" conference. The crowds at the two conferences couldn't have been more different: one near-adolescent, the other near-geriatric. But the Faith and Freedom crowd represented a waning force in the Republican Party — the traditional, faith-based conservative.
During a breakout session of that conference, an 85-year-old woman posed a question to a panel of young, faithful Republicans. "Who are these libertarians?" she asked. "I can't deal with them and I don't know where they stand."
Let the rest of this post offer up some answers to her well-intentioned question. I recorded audio of Wednesday's Young Americans for Liberty event. Below, find a comment or statement from one of the senators. Then hear how the crowd reacted after each one. It's not a perfect sample size, but let's assume these 300 active libertarian students represent an influential sentiment. You might want to turn down your speakers for some of these.
Rand Paul: "This morning we had a debate over whether we should send military aid to Egypt."
Moderator: "When are we going to audit the Federal Reserve?"
Paul: (Mentions that Obama won't be around forever.)
Paul: "The old guard is a part of the shrinking Republican party.... The growth potential isn't in what they are talking about. They're presiding over a dying party. They're presiding over an all-white, dying, everybody is in a tie.... I don't have anything against them. But the thing is, we need wacko people, white, people, we need black people, we need brown people, people with ponytails, people with tattoos...." (Noise starts to drown him out)
Ted Cruz: "Just recently, President Obama announced the United States is going to give weapons to the rebels in Syria."
Cruz: "No." (Answering a question on whether he would support a war that wasn't consitutionally declared by Congress)
Mike Lee: "Most of you probably believe you are more likely to see Elvis alive in your lifetime than see a dime from Social Security."
Cruz: "The Obama administration went before the U.S. Supreme Court last year and it argued it is entitled to go and put a GPS sensor on your car with no probable cause." (The Supreme Court shot this down.)
Cruz: "It also presents an opportunity to reform Social Security, to make the program solvent and strong." (Author's note: This was perhaps the one comment that provoked a mixed reaction.)
Cruz: "I certainly hope that, working together, we could force a vote on the Audit the Fed bill."
Cruz: "Defund Obamacare."