U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addresses the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 14, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. A slate of important conserative leaders are slated to speak during the the American Conservative Union's annual conference. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Martha T. Moore, USA Today
Rand Paul, carrying reminders of his 13-hour filibuster against President Obama and the use of drones, went after his own party in a speech to conservative activists Thursday.
"The Republican Party leadership is stale and moss-covered,'' Paul told the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Paul said he was "naming no names,'' but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently called Paul a "wacko bird'' for his opposition to drones. Paul displayed the binders he used as references during his filibuster and joked about the brevity of his speech.
Paul and Marco Rubio, Republican senators being measured as 2016 presidential possibilities, gave campaign-style speeches at the annual conservative gathering: inspirational and wide-ranging. Paul attacked wasteful government spending, advocated a flat tax and appealed to young voters - a big part of the CPAC audience - calling them "the core of the 'leave me alone' coalition.''
"If we're going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP,'' he said.
Many in the CPAC audience stood up during Paul's speech, and "Stand with Rand" signs proliferated, a reference to the filibuster last week that made him a social media star.
Rubio, in an implicit rebuke to former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dismissal of 47% of the electorate, said the country doesn't have "too many people who want too much from government.''
Rubio avoided the hot-button topic of immigration but touched on energy policy, economic rivalry with China and school choice. He described a "vibrant middle class" as the nation's defining difference.
He defended social conservatism: "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,'' nor does opposing abortion rights "make me a chauvinist.''