Watch CBS News

Rubio, Paul chart divergent paths for GOP

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have much in common - both are young, telegenic senators from southern states, relatively new to the U.S. Congress. Both are commonly hailed as the future of the Republican Party, a pair of potential 2016 presidential contenders that can carry the Republican message to a new generation of American conservatives.

But despite their similarities, they each took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday to deliver messages that at times conflicted with one another. Rubio urged attendees to remember that we cannot retreat from the world, and that the traditional values deserve defenders. Paul, for his part, demanded an end to foreign aid for adversarial nations and urged his colleagues to respect social liberty as fervently as they do economic liberty.

These two men may well be the future of the Republican Party - but if today's speeches were any indication, it's not at all clear what that future will look like.

Rubio talked about American exceptionalism and the dangers of government excess but notably did not discuss immigration reform - a signature issue of Rubio's to which the GOP is devoting a lot of attention as they attempt to peel away Hispanic voters, a demographic that overwhelmingly supported President Obama in November.

For his part, Paul clearly demarcated the new GOP from the old guard, bashing past Republican candidates for the state of the party.

"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," he said. "I don't think we need to name any names, do we?"

The Kentucky Republican took the stage to cheers from the audience as he referenced his recent 13-hour filibuster in the Senate, undertaken to object to the Obama administration's policy on targeted drone strikes.

"I was told I'd have ten measly minutes," he said, "but just in case, I brought 13 hours worth of information."

Paul said he came with "a message for the president."

"Don't drone me, bro!" shouted an audience member.

Paul replied that while that wasn't exactly what he had in mind, the audience member "may have distilled my 13 hour speech into three words."

The real message, Paul said, was that "No one person gets to decide the one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence."

"President Obama, who seemed, once upon a time, to respect civil liberties, has become the president who signed a law allowing for indefinite detention of an American citizen," Paul lamented.

Paul said Mr. Obama reassured lawmakers that he had "no intention" to detain an American citizen without a trial and "no intention" to drone an American citizen on U.S. soil.

All well and good, Paul said, but "good intentions are not enough."

"We want to know, will you or won't you defend the constitution," he explained.

And he fired a shot at those in his party and across the aisle who have scorned his crusade for individual liberty: "To those who would dismiss this debate as frivolous, I say, 'Tell that to the heroic men and women who sacrifice their limbs and lives.'"

Paul urged the audience to remember Ronald Reagan's edict: "As government expands, liberty contracts."

"Government today is larger than it has ever been in our history," Paul said, and the threat to liberty has increased in tandem. "Everything we ever wish to be is now threatened by the notion that you can have something for nothing...that you can spend a trillion dollars every year that you don't have."

"The president seems to think that the country can continue to borrow $50,000 a second...that we just need to squeeze more money out of those who are working," Paul explained. "He's got it exactly backwards."

Paul slammed the president for cancelling White House tours due to budget cuts while also sending $250 million in foreign aid to Egypt, saying we should send "not one penny more to countries that are burning our flag."

But help is around the corner, Paul said, as a new generation - the "Facebook generation" begins to seize the reins of power. "The Facebook generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy a mile away," he said. "They're the core of the leave-me-alone coalition."

"They want leaders that won't feed them a line of crap or sell them short, he added. "They aren't afraid of individual liberty."

For America to succeed, Paul said, "We desperately need a new course and new leadership."

"Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom," he said. Going forward, "The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere."

Rubio, who spoke before Paul, said that while he believes America is "in trouble," he also knows that nothing is permanent. "Our people have not changed," he said, despite President Obama's attempts to refashion government and society.

But people are worried and confused, he said. "They think that one side is fighting for the people who've made it, and all the other side does is fight for" policies that benefit the downtrodden. Meanwhile, the middle class wonders "who's fighting for them."

"That is both our challenge and our opportunity: to be their voice," Rubio said.

He urged Republicans to "create an agenda applying our the challenges of today," naming "pro-growth energy policies, including oil and natural gas," a "pro-growth tax policy," and a solution to our debt problem as the necessary building blocks of that agenda.

He called for greater parental choice in education, explaining, "Every parent in America should have the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice."

Despite some talk that conservatives must soften their social traditionalism to appeal to a new, more tolerant generation of voters, Rubio warned that we must "not underestimate the impact that the breakdown of the American family is having on our people and our longtime future."

"Just because I believe that states have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot," Rubio said. "Just because we believe that...all human life is worthy of protection...does not make you a chauvinist."

"The people who are actually close-minded in American politics," he insisted, "are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science when it comes to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception."

He also warned that America cannot simply abandon its role as the head of the international community: "We can't be involved in every armed conflict, but we also can't be retreating from the world."

Despite our adversaries on the global stage, Rubio said, America is still sitting pretty: "They may claim to hate us, but they sure would like to be us."

"What we have here is different and special," Rubio said. "We don't need a new idea - there is an idea, the idea is called America, and it still works."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.