Hardball with Chris Matthews, 3/14/13, 8:00 PM ET

CPAC offers different visions for future of GOP

Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio could both be contenders in 2016, but the messages they delivered at CPAC on the vision of the GOP were markedly different....

Rubio, Paul chart wildly different courses at CPAC

Updated
By Adam Garnett

The Republican Party has reached a clear fork in the road following their 2012 electoral drubbing. Is it out with the old and in with the new, or do they stay the course?

This is the dilemma that many of the speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) have addressed the past few days. Two of the young rising stars in the GOP, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, made vastly different statements Thursday about which direction the party should head.

Rubio, who has aligned himself with the establishment wing of the party said, “We don’t need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea’s called America and it still works!”

By contrast, just minutes after Rubio uttered these words Paul, a Tea Party favorite and noted Libertarian, took a far more critical angle. “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” said Paul. “I don’t think we need to name any names,” he added with a chuckle. This appeared to be a clear dig at Sen. John McCain, perhaps the most recognizable face of the Washington Republican establishment, who last week chided Paul following  the junior senator from Kentucky’s almost 13-hour filibuster on the government’s use of predator drones.

“Rand Paul says ‘we need new ideas and we need to be more Libertarian and less interventionist’ just to hit his basic themes,” The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson told Chris Matthews on Friday’s Hardball. “Marco Rubio says ‘we don’t need to change anything except the candidates. We need to have candidates who better articulate what we’ve been saying all along’ and that’s going to be the fight in the party. I’m a believer in inertia. I think they stick with the same basic ideas but with a new face.”

Clear battle lines are being drawn inside the Republican Party on which course to chart forward. The exclusion of moderate governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell from speaking at CPAC give an indication which factions hold the most sway and who might emerge as the GOP’s leader in 2016. The infighting of today’s Republican Party is of a different nature than the fight that was waged in years past.

“For decades there was a fight within the Republican Party between realists and the neoconservatives. Modest intervention vs. the neocons who had a messianic view of promoting democracy,” Mother Jones’s David Corn told Matthews. “There always was a small part of the party, paleoconservatives like Pat Buchannan, but they were never even in the debate. They were so far out of the mainstream of their own party. Now with Rand Paul, we see them kind of rising and the debate is between them and the neocons. The realists are gone. I think the GOP establishment is still squarely in the neo-conservative camp with maybe a toe or two in the realist camp and they will find a way to drown out Rand Paul at least in the conversation in Washington in the halls of power.”

Rubio, Paul chart wildly different courses at CPAC

Updated