NPR’s Charlie Mahtesian joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and bipartisan reaction in Congress to the crisis in Ukraine.
CPAC came to a close this weekend after Sen. Rand Paul won the conference’s presidential straw poll for the second year in a row. Although Republican officials acknowledged the need for the party to come together on a unified platform, there was little agreement on what that agenda would be.
Meantime, Congress made a joint effort last week by approving legislation to provide Ukraine with up to $1 billion in economic relief.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
And Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky starts this week, as a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: It is decidedly not a time for the faint of heart. It's a time for boldness and action. The time is now. Stand with me. Let us stand together for liberty. Thank you and God bless America.
HOBSON: Rand Paul speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC over the weekend where he won the straw poll for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, the other Kentucky senator, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said over the weekend that establishment Republicans would crush the Tea Party, telling the New York Times, I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country. He was referring to Tea Party challengers looking to unseat establishment Republicans, including him, in the primaries. Here to talk to us about all of this is Charlie Mahtesian, NPR digital politics editor. Charlie, welcome.
CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, let's start with Rand Paul and his win, the second time in a row that he's won the presidential straw poll at CPAC. What does that tell you?
MAHTESIAN: Well, provided some useful insight into Senator Paul's popularity and also into the direction of the party in going forward, but I think it's important to note that the CPAC crowd isn't necessarily representative of the party as a whole. And what I mean there is that you might see that Rand Paul had a home field advantage at the CPAC conference because the attendees there tend to be younger, more libertarian-oriented, and more concerned about the set of issues that tend to be in Rand Paul's sweet spot - issues like reduced (technical difficulty), civil liberties, and a more noninterventionist brand of foreign policy.
So CPAC represents a notable slice of the party, but it doesn't necessarily reflect the full ideological breadth of the GOP, which would include more social conservatives and probably hawkish elements to the party as well.
HOBSON: What about the comments from Mitch McConnell in the New York Times, saying he wants to crush the Tea Party. And, of course, he is facing a Tea Party challenger, right?
MAHTESIAN: Right. Pretty remarkable, huh, Jeremy? What we see happening there is that the establishment now is fighting back harder than it ever has before against the Tea Party. For a time, the establishment wing was sort of biting its nails and kind of standing on the sidelines, and it really refrained from punching back very hard. But now what we see is that the GOP leadership and others are responding with much more vigor, and that's what we saw with Mitch McConnell's, you know, in-your-face remarks. And I think that's indicative of a very different mindset now from folks like McConnell who no longer really seek to appease the Tea Party elements because they - there's a belief that those elements simply cannot be placated. And so we're hearing much tougher rhetoric than before, and we're also seeing much more sharp-elbowed tactics from the GOP senators who have been challenged on the right flank.
HOBSON: But don't they need Tea Party Republicans to vote for them in general elections to win?
MAHTESIAN: They do, but they also have to win their primaries to get to the general election, and I think they're finding that they're spending so many resources in these brutal primary fights that they have to go full guns blazing in the primary as well.
HOBSON: Charlie, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, is going to be making a speech today outlining changes to U.S. economic policy. He obviously is not taking the headline out of the CPAC conference as that's going to Rand Paul. But what about him?
MAHTESIAN: Well, he'll be talking about ideas to accelerate economic growth through, among other things, streamlining federal regulations, tax reform, expanded international trade agreements. And I think what we're seeing is part of Marco Rubio's attempt to get back on track and establish himself as a foreign and economic policy heavyweight, because he's seeing a standing among conservatives really erode over the past year in large part because of his position on immigration.
HOBSON: Yeah, position, which is about a bill that it looks like is not going anywhere now, the immigration reform bill, at least this year in the House of Representatives. NPR digital politics editor Charlie Mahtesian, thanks so much.
MAHTESIAN: Thanks, Jeremy.
HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.