A pair of Tea Party-backed young senators are leading the charge as the Republican Party seeks to broaden its appeal following a pair of recent presidential losses and a disappointing bid to re-take control of the Senate.
For all the hand-wringing and cautious "messaging" changes the GOP establishment and party leaders are trying out, the "new" brand looks an awful lot like the "old" brand, with few exceptions. But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio—buoyed by an independent base of conservative popularity and the youthful confidence that comes from being anointed your party's saviors—are striking out their own path.
Rubio has even been tapped to deliver one of the highest-profile GOP speeches of the year, the rebuttal to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on February 12.
Rubio recently engaged in a freewheeling discussion that ranged from the history of one of hip-hop's greatest blood feuds, Biggie versus Tupac ('it's not my fight,' offered Rubio before he admitted he prefers Tupac), to gay rights, to the effectiveness of climate change legislation, and women in combat during a press event held at a Washington, D.C., saloon. While old school Republicans (and Democrats) have long engaged in politicking over drinks, it's typically with donors rather than on the record before a room full of reporters.
"I bet you didn't realize there's actually a Tupac song that mentions Bob Dole and Bill Clinton," Rubio said to Buzzfeed's editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
Where his elder counterparts struggle with widening the party appeal to women and minorities, Rubio is much more effective at communicating conservative principles while not as blatantly alienating potential voters.
"The reality is that women are already in combat roles, whether we admit that or not," he said. "I think that we need to have our best people and if that person happens to be a woman, why would we not want that?"
When asked about gay marriage, Rubio acknowledged "movement in public opinion on it" while stating his personal opposition.
"You can have a strong opinion about what the institution of marriage is but still recognize that there are 100 other issues that we could work together on, that every single person on earth has a value that should be respected that our Constitution recognizes," he said.
Paul, delivering a foreign policy speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation Wednesday, struck a balance between George W. Bush era neo-conservativism and support for nation building, and his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul's, unique brand of isolationism.
The Kentucky senator criticized the traditional GOP stance that money should be no object when it comes to the U.S. military and its mission, and said that America should rethink its role in the world while recognizing the cost to U.S. blood and treasure.
"I'd argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy, as it includes two basic tenets of true conservatism: respect for the constitution and fiscal discipline," Paul said, reflecting libertarian ideals held by both Tea Partiers and some progressives.
Congress also must be more assertive when it comes to its role in providing checks and balances to the president's war powers, he said.
"We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya," Paul said. "This is a dangerous precedent. In our foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy."
A senator who at times finds himself the only member on a certain side of things—whether it's a willingness to place secret holds on nominations to get a vote on a certain amendment, or an opposition to some spending provision that most Republicans agree with—Paul was obviously striving to legitimize himself as a leader with original but appealing viewpoints.
"When foreign policy has become so monolithic, so lacking in debate that Republicans and Democrats routinely pass foreign policy statements without debate and without votes, where are the calls for moderation, the calls for restraint?" he said. "Anyone who questions the bipartisan consensus is immediately castigated, rebuked and their patriotism challenged."