The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathered the true believers of the Republican right last weekend. The putative victor was rookie Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Mr. Paul and his CPAC audience did not lay out a conservative vision for America on such issues as spending and deficit reduction. Instead, CPAC is all about ideological purity. Its gathering was a pep rally, not a policy meeting or even a political convention.
Politics is about building coalitions, winning elections, and passing legislation by cooperating with people you don’t agree with and may not like. But when the American right gathers for a rally around the bonfire, none of these things is on its collective mind.
Rather, the purpose is self-reassurance and sometimes self-hypnosis: “There is nothing wrong with us or our message,” one CPAC speaker after another essentially said.
A true, unsentimental Republican political mind might differ. If nothing is wrong, the right would be winning more elections and passing legislation.
A report commissioned by the Republican National Committee and released this week acknowledged as much. A recommendation followed: Reach out to minorities and come out openly for immigration reform. Senator Paul has done the latter.
Mr. Paul won CPAC’s straw poll for the 2016 presidential election. The fact that he was favored rather than, say, Sarah Palin may show some nascent desire for coherence and a platform, beyond anger and disdain for President Obama.
Senator Paul is a libertarian. He wants radically less government — as close to no government as possible. He feels the current federal government is out of control. That’s at least a position.
His libertarianism includes opposition to a large national military apparatus, as well as to a federal regulatory structure and the social safety net. He opposes the use of drone missiles without congressional oversight.
Is dismantling government a concept around which Republicans might build a winning coalition? Probably not. Most Americans want meat inspectors, air traffic controllers, and border guards.
In this sense, the Republican fever is still far from breaking. Senator Paul and his followers are another brand of politically impractical true believers. His father, former congressman Ron Paul, failed to win a single primary in his 2012 presidential run.
But Rand Paul’s ascent is at least a step toward coherence, and it is more than just sputtering resentment. That makes conversation, rather than shouting, at least theoretically possible.