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The new Republican frontrunner

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 7, 2014. Friday marks the second day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which brings together prospective presidential candidates, conservative opinion leaders and tea party activists from coast to coast. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Is 32 months too far away to start talking about the 2016 presidential race?

Too bad, because the new Republican frontrunner said some surprising things over the weekend.

Rand Paul came out to the chorus of “Tubthumping,” a classic piece of British anarchy rock. And he won the straw poll at the conservative action conference by channeling the ACLU.

I know it’s a little early for presidential politics, but all the buzz is suddenly about Rand Paul who was wildly cheered at a conference over the weekend that each year presents a parade of conservative stars talking about moral issues and a more muscular foreign policy – of course, “gun-damentalism.”

But what made Rand Paul’s reception so remarkable is that he didn’t talk about any of that.

“You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans. I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of Liberty,” he told the crowd.

He started out talking about an abolitionist and the bad old days when the government denied liberties to an entire race. And then drew a direct link to the liberties he said are being denied today.

“I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business,” said Paul.

It was a younger crowd of conservatives: 78 percent of them against NSA surveillance, 41 percent in favor of legal marijuana, and 100 percent against Barack Obama. But this wasn’t about Obamacare or Benghazi – it was about the way he’s fighting terrorism.

“When Congress passed legislation allowing for the indefinite detention of an American citizen without a trial, he shamefully signed it while promising not to use such a power,” said Paul. “A great president would have taken pen in hand and vetoed this abomination.”

He said for a president to tolerate the NSA’s generalized warrants for phone records is about as far from the constitution as you can get.

“When the president says, ‘I can write the law, watch me.’ He’s got a pen, he’s got a phone – he doesn’t care what the law is, a tyranny will ensue and we must stop this president from shredding the constitution,” said Paul.

And what was especially extraordinary about the speech, is that it led to him winning 31 percent of the vote in CPAC’s straw poll – almost three times what his closest runner up, Ted Cruz got.

And he did it giving a speech that could have been taken directly from an ACLU press release.

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