TIME 2016 Election

How Ted Cruz Plans to Disrupt the GOP Presidential Primary

Ted Cruz
Andrew Harnik—AP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stands on stage while speaking to a crowd gathered to announce his presidential candidacy at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. on March 23, 2015.

Once again, the firebrand senator is betting that his best shot to win is breaking the old rules

Ted Cruz’s decision to launch his presidential campaign on Monday breaks all the customs of a typical candidate announcement.

Presidential hopefuls tend to kick off the quest for the White House on home turf, after forming an exploratory committee and at the beginning of a new fundraising period, which allows them to maximize the amount of time they can spend raising money before filing their first report. In contrast, the Texas Senator will declare his intentions during a convocation speech at Liberty University in Virginia, forgoing an exploratory committee to formally jump into the race in the final weeks of the first quarter.

Cruz’s move, confirmed in a Twitter message just after midnight Monday ahead of a speech later in the day, may be unconventional. But since arriving in the Senate in 2013, the firebrand Texan has bet that the new way to win in politics is to break the old rules. A freshman Senator is supposed to focus on committee work, forge alliances, sidestep the spotlight. Instead, Cruz led the charge to shut down the government, alienated his Republican colleagues and reveled in the controversy, which vaulted him to conservative superstardom.

This is the context you need to understand how Cruz, the first major GOP candidate to formally launch a bid for the White House, plans to run his presidential campaign. “What I’m trying to do, more than anything else,” he explained last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, “is bring a disruptive app to politics.”

MORE Read TIME‘s 2013 profile of Texas Senator Ted Cruz

Like most of his unorthodox moves, the details of his announcement make some strategic sense. Cruz’s campaign will be based in his hometown of Houston, but it aspires to become national grassroots movement, with the Republican Party’s most conservative voters on its front lines. To win the nomination, Cruz will have to muster an army that combines the Tea Party faithful with the GOP’s social conservative wing and foreign-policy hawks.

That’s where the location of Monday’s announcement comes in. Liberty, a Lynchburg-based school founded by influential pastor Jerry Falwell, is a cradle of Christian conservatism; Cruz also chose it for a major speech last year about religious freedom. The venue is a clear signal that the Senator intends to court the GOP’s evangelical wing, which dominates the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

The timing of the rollout is also logical. As a federal officeholder, he is restricted from coordinating with his super PAC, which limits the benefits of delaying his announcement. Due to the advantages of launching in April—which puts off the requirement of reporting fundraising tallies until mid-July—the political calendar next month is expected to be crowded with campaign announcements from the likes of Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton and others. By jumping in now, Cruz is able to grab the spotlight without rivals around to share it.

He could use the boost. In the early phases of the GOP primary, Cruz has been less a leading man than an afterthought. An average of early Iowa polls shows Cruz running ninth, pulling about 4% of the vote. In the fight to win the hearts of Hawkeye State social conservatives, he faces competition from former caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher.

Indeed, many Republican strategists have dismissed Cruz as a serious contender for the nomination. They argue that his appeal is deep but narrow, confined to the far-right reaches of the party. He is estranged from the Washington establishment and the GOP donor class because of maneuvers such as the government shutdown. Even in Texas, he has to compete for money and influence with former governor Rick Perry’s likely presidential campaign and the deep-rooted Bush network. (Cruz’s advisers plan to raise $40 million to $50 million to compete in the primary, the Chronicle reports.)

The outside groups that helped marshal support for his Senate bid, such as the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund, are unlikely to play the same role in a nominating contest crowded with conservative stars. Like Paul and Rubio, he will have to overcome the challenge of running as a first-term Senator after the GOP has spent the past seven years dismissing Barack Obama as too callow for the job.

But Cruz has always worn the naysaying of Washington Republicans as a badge of honor. He has long believed that he can galvanize the GOP grassroots and run a guerrilla campaign funded by small-dollar checks. As a national strategy, it has precedent in Obama’s own 2008 primary campaign, which Cruz sought to replicate in his one successful political race. “There were two campaigns on which we modeled our campaign for Senate, and they were Obama’s campaign for President in 2008 and Marco Rubio’s campaign for Senate in 2010,” he told TIME in 2013. Cruz studied the Obama blueprint so closely that for Christmas one year, he gave staffers copies of The Audacity to Win, the manual written by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Cruz has assets that could lift him in the primary, including a preacher father with evangelical ties, a day job that offers him a national pulpit and oratorical chops that made him a national debating champion at Princeton. He will run as the race’s one untainted conservative: even in Iowa, he has declined to participate in the quadrennial ethanol pander. “He has the broadest appeal of all the conservative candidates, appealing to Iowa’s evangelicals, tea partyers, and liberty faction without changing anything about who he is,” said Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa talk radio host. “He’s arguably the best soldier the conservative cause has had in recent memory.”

Running as a purist has limits, of course, and GOP critics are confident the presidential primary will expose the flaws in the strategy. Beginning Monday, Cruz will try to prove them wrong once more.

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

Read next: Watch Seth Meyers Tell Ted Cruz the World Really Is on Fire

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TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Supporter Stumbles Into Campaign Finance Tangle With Radio Ad

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to the media after visiting Integra Biosciences during a campaign stop in Hudson, New Hampshire
Shannon Stapleton—Reuters Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to the media after visiting Integra Biosciences during a campaign stop in Hudson, New Hampshire March 13, 2015.

How a Bush backer ran afoul of the former governor's lawyers

Jay Schorr was one of Jeb Bush’s biggest fans.

The owner of a South Florida media company, Schorr was so glad to see Bush taking a hard look at a presidential campaign that in early February, he began funding radio ads touting the former Sunshine State governor as the solution to America’s ailments. “Only one man is running on a record of success: Jeb Bush,” intoned his initial 49-second spot, which Schorr believes was the first to promote Bush as a presidential candidate.

But there was a problem: Bush isn’t officially running for anything. Even as he winks and nods his way across early primary states, doing all the things candidates do—giving speeches, meeting with the press, raising money and building supporter lists—the former Florida governor has exploited the blind spots in U.S. campaign finance law to avoid the legal definition of candidate activity.

As a result, what Schorr got this week in return for his zeal and financial support was a cease-and-desist letter from Bush’s lawyers. “While we appreciate your enthusiasm,” they wrote in the missive, a copy of which was obtained by TIME, “your ads erroneously suggest that Governor Bush is a candidate for office and claim that he approved the messages in the ads. Please be aware that Governor Bush is NOT a candidate for any office and he has not approved any of your advertisements.”

As a legal matter, Bush’s lawyers had plenty of reasons to be cautious. His effort to reach the White House can only be carried out legally in its current incarnation if he denies that any of it is being done as part of a dedicated effort to win the White House.

If that sounds strange, welcome to the world of modern day campaign finance. The 2016 presidential election is poised to shatter spending records, with more money sloshing around than ever before. And a big part of the reason is the proliferation of individual-candidate super PACs, groups that can raise unlimited sums in support of specific candidates, but cannot directly coordinate most of their efforts with those candidates once they declare for federal office.

Super PACs emerged as a force in 2012, with patriotic monikers like Restore Our Future (which supported Mitt Romney) and Priorities USA Action (which backed Barack Obama and has since thrown its muscle behind Hillary Clinton). In 2014, they spread widely to Congressional races. And in the nascent phases of the 2016 race, they have become the most effective weapon in a presidential hopeful’s arsenal, a way for an undeclared candidate to stockpile unlimited sums right out of the gate.

Bush, like an array of other all-but-certain candidates, is using his Right to Rise super PAC to rake in millions of dollars, all while maintaining the pretense that he is not officially running for anything. After he becomes a candidate, he is almost certain to cut official ties to Right to Rise, leaving it in the hands of his staff, who will run television ads on his behalf. In the meantime, his lawyers are careful to ensure he doesn’t run afoul of Federal Election Commission regulations. (Charlie Spies, counsel to the Right to Rise PAC and the main author of the letter to Schorr, did not respond to a request for comment.)

The cease-and-desist letter shocked Schorr, who says he was simply trying to exercise his First Amendment rights to enumerate Bush’s merits. Schorr’s idea was to create one radio ad each week until November 2016. One quirky spot featured an imaginary dialogue between Bush and Bill Clinton; another challenged David Letterman to a monologue contest in response to a recent Late Night swipe. So far, he’s done about a half-dozen ads in total, paying about $7,000 out of his own pocket to place them on local radio and the Internet. “A mere pittance in political advertising terms,” he notes, “but for someone not being financed by big pocket donors, it’s significant.”

Though the spat has soured him a bit on Bush’s operation, Schorr says he still supports the former Florida governor. But he has come to believe that the episode highlights how Bush, like many other 2016 hopefuls, is flouting the spirit of U.S. campaign-finance laws, if not the letter.

“The whole campaign finance landscape is a sham. It’s a legal fiction. The candidates themselves are wink-winking—‘if I decide to run’,” he says. “They’re paying lip service to some ridiculous federal regulations that everyone circumvents.”

“People need to know,” Schorr adds, “that these candidates are running wild.”

TIME 2016 Election

Questions Remain After Clinton Camp Discloses Reading Each Email

Hillary Clinton Inducted Into Irish America Hall of Fame
Yana Paskova—Getty Images Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks on stage during a ceremony to induct her into the Irish America Hall of Fame on March 16, 2015 in New York City.

An adviser to Hillary Clinton offered further detail about the process her lawyers used to determine which of her emails to turn over to the State Department

A week after trying to move beyond her email controversy, Hillary Clinton is still working to clarify how she cleared her inbox. Her staff now says lawyers read through every email she sent and received as Secretary of State before deeming more than half of them to be personal records and discarding them.

The new assertion expands on Clinton’s initial account of how her attorneys determined which emails to turn over in response to a State Department records request. But as two Republican-controlled House committees investigate her email-retention practices, key questions about the process remain.

As Secretary of State, Clinton had a responsibility to turn over all emails from her home computer server that qualify as federal records, even if they contained only a line or two of official business. Intentionally destroying such records can be prosecuted as a crime, though Clinton says her attorneys were careful to follow the law.

In a fact sheet released after Clinton’s March 10 press conference at the U.N., her office provided a detailed description of the “multistep” sorting process her attorneys used to separate work-related documents from personal correspondence. The lawyers started with a search for all emails sent and received during Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom, then searched for documents sent to and from government email accounts, scanned for the first and last names of more than 100 specific people, reviewed those addresses to check for common misspellings and “lastly” looked for possible work-related keywords like Benghazi.

These steps produced over 30,400 emails, Clinton’s office said. A total of 30,490 were handed over to the State Department. The fact sheet made no mention of anyone reading the emails, raising questions about whether relevant documents slipped through the cracks.

Several days after the press conference, Clinton’s spokesman Nick Merrill told TIME that her lawyers used keywords and other filters in addition to reading each document individually, not in lieu of that process. “Every one of the more than 60,000 emails were read,” Merrill said. “We apologize if the fact sheet wasn’t clear enough on this point.” A person familiar with the effort said Clinton’s attorneys read every line of the email cache.

But Clinton’s team has still not explained some details of the email review, including how the two methods complemented each other, when the reading began and whether it resulted in any additional documents being handed over to the State Department.

The answers to those questions could still matter for Clinton, who is preparing to launch her all-but-certain presidential campaign in the coming weeks. House Speaker John Boehner called on Clinton to turn over her personal server to a “neutral third party” even though Clinton has said her 31,830 personal records have already been discarded. “I think this is the fairest way,” Boehner told reporters on March 17, “to make sure that we have all the documents that belong to the public, and ultimately all of the facts.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Problem With Hillary Clinton’s Email Record Search

A top lawyer says the procedure Clinton used to identify work-related documents on her email server did not meet best practices

A top expert on federal record-keeping policy criticized the method Hillary Clinton’s lawyers used to determine which emails to forward to the State Department for archiving.

Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker, Biddle and Reath and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said that Clinton’s team should have manually reviewed every email she sent on a personal email account to find which ones pertained to government business.

Instead, as Clinton revealed Tuesday, her attorneys searched the trove of emails for certain email addresses and subjects. Baron argued that raises the possibility that they missed some emails that should have been saved for the public record.

“There is an outstanding question, and it is a legitimate question, about whether she has now handed over all records pertaining to government business,” Baron says. “For example, in the case of an email that is mostly personal in nature but also contains a sentence or paragraph related to government business, then that email is a government record appropriate for preservation at the State Department, and should not continue to be withheld.”

MORE How to Email Like Hillary Clinton

On December 5, Clinton’s office submitted printed copies of 30,490 work-related emails to the State Department in response to an October records request issued to four former Secretaries of State. The correspondence, which amounted to some 55,000 printed pages, represented less than half of the 62,320 emails sent and received from Clinton’s private email account during her tenure in Foggy Bottom from March 2009 to February 2013. Clinton said during a press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon that the remainder of the emails were personal in nature and thus did not have to be turned over.

As part of a nine-page statement released after the former Secretary’s press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon, Clinton’s office detailed the “multi-step” process her counsel used to determine which emails it was required to submit to State. “Secretary Clinton directed her attorneys to assist by identifying and preserving all emails that could potentially be federal records,” her office said.

First, the lawyers searched all emails with a “.gov” email address in any address field, which yielded 27,500 emails—more than 90% of the total correspondence ultimately provided to State.

Next they searched for the first and last names of more than 100 State Department and other U.S. government officials. “This included all Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Ambassadors-at-Large, Special Representatives and Envoys, members of the Secretary’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, and other senior officials to the Secretary, including close aides and staff,” Clinton’s office says. Then they sorted and checked for “misspellings or other idiosyncrasies” to locate documents the search might have missed.

Finally, they performed a search for specific keywords, including “Benghazi” and “Libya.” It is not clear how many such terms were used as filters.

MORE How Hillary Clinton Fared the First Time She Was in the Hot Seat

Clinton’s office said the method was exhaustive. “These additional three steps yielded just over another 2,900 emails, including emails from former Administration officials and long-time friends that may not be deemed by the Department to be federal records,” it said in the statement. “And hundreds of these emails actually had already been forwarded onto the state.gov system and captured in real- time.”

But Baron argues that using keywords as a shortcut raises the possibility that some work-related emails slipped through the cracks. “I would question why lawyers for Secretary Clinton would use keyword searching, a method known to be fraught with limitations, to determine which of the emails with a non-.gov address pertained to government business,” he says. “Any and all State Department activities, not just communications involving the keywords ‘Benghazi’ or ‘Libya’, would potentially make an email a federal record.”

“If the lawyers had more than a few days to conduct a search, given the high stakes involved and the fact that only on the order of 30,000 emails with non .gov addresses remained to be reviewed after clearly .gov federal records were separated out, I would have imagined staff could have simply conducted a manual review of every document,” Baron adds. “Using keywords as a shortcut unfortunately leaves the process open to being second-guessed.”

Read next: Transcript: Everything Hillary Clinton Said on the Email Controversy

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TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Did Not Keep Personal Emails

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted Tuesday that she discarded tens of thousands of emails from a private server kept at her New York home.

In her first extended public remarks about her exclusive use of a personal email account to conduct government business, Clinton was adamant that she complied with all applicable rules and said she went “above and beyond” by handing over some 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department.

But her admission that she did not turn over roughly half the messages in her private account and will not submit them to independent scrutiny will likely fan the controversy.

“At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal emails—emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes,” Clinton said, saying attorneys she paid categorized the correspondence.

“They were personal and private,” she added. “They had nothing to do with work. I didn’t see any reason to keep them.”

Under fire from pundits and political critics, Clinton called the unusual press conference—the most significant since she left office—to defend herself.

The former Secretary of State said that when she began the job, she made the decision to use her private address as a matter of “convenience.” She noted the “vast majority” of her work emails were sent to government employees on their official work accounts, and as a result, those messages are preserved and archived as public records on the other end.

“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and personal emails instead of two,” she said. “Looking back,” she added, “it might have been smarter to have two devices from the very beginning.”

Read more: Transcript of Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the press conference

The State Department said Tuesday that it is reviewing by hand 55,000 pages of emails supplied by Clinton. The Department will release emails from that cache on a publicly accessible website once it redacts information not covered by the Freedom of Information Act. The process is expected to take several months.

Clinton argued that when the State Department releases her messages, the American people would benefit from an inside view into her work. “I feel like once the American public begins to see the emails, they will have an unprecedented insight into a high government official’s daily communications, which I think will be quite interesting,” Clinton said.

But by deleting the private messages, Clinton has made it difficult, if not impossible, to verify whether there were any politically or personally sensitive matters she declined to turn over to State. “The server will remain private,” she said, when asked if she would make it available for independent review.

Clinton’s comments ended her conspicuous near-silence over the eight days since the New York Times revealed she had exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business while serving as Secretary of State.

“I want the public to see my email,” Clinton said in a tweet last week in her only prior comment on the scandal. “I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.”

After the press conference, Rep. Trey Gowdy, a key Republican investigator, said he would call Clinton to testify on Capitol Hill “at least twice” to “clear up her role and resolve issues” related to the email controversy.

The ensuing controversy has forced Clinton into a defensive crouch as she is in the final stages of preparation before announcing her second presidential bid.

The brouhaha has extended to the White House, where President Barack Obama initially denied knowledge of Clinton’s private accounts, only for a spokesman to admit Monday that Obama had corresponded with her by email at the private address.

A White House spokesman said Tuesday it would be premature to judge whether the president would claim executive privilege to prevent the release of his emails with Clinton. “Let’s just let the State Department review that process under their regular order and then we can make a determination from there,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

Clinton answered questions before about 100 reporters crammed into a hallway on the second floor of the United Nations, next to a reproduction of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. The press conference followed a planned speech to a Women’s Empowerment Principles Event. Critics chided Clinton for the choice for venue, arguing the slow U.N. accreditation process and the late notice made it difficult for the media to attend the press conference.

“Hillary Clinton’s response to her email scandal is already turning into another exercise for limiting transparency,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short. “She and her team had perhaps hundreds—if not thousands—of options for a venue … but Clinton instead chose one of the most difficult places for reporters to get access to.”

During the press conference, Clinton also defended her family’s foundation, which has been under fire for accepting donations from foreign governments—including some whose practices contravene the ethos of the philanthropic organization.

“I am very proud of the work the foundation does,” Clinton said, skirting the substance of the question. “I’m very proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who support the work of the foundation and the results that have been achieved for people here at home and around the world. And I think that we are very clear about where we stand, certainly where I stand, on all of these issues.”

Clinton also criticized a letter signed by 47 Republican Senators sent to the Iranian government warning that a nuclear agreement reached with Obama may not be binding on the next administration. “Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy,” Clinton said. “Either answer does discredit to the letter’s signatories.”

With reporting by Sam Frizell/New York and Alex Rogers/Washington.

TIME 2016 Election

7 Things We Learned Writing a Cover Story About Jeb Bush

20150316-Bush-Gallery
Cover Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum/Corbis George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush and George W. Bush on the Mar. 16, 2015, cover of TIME

This week’s TIME cover story is a profile of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is vying to become the third member of his family to win the presidency. Here are seven things we learned about Bush while reporting the piece:

His father met his future wife the day before his wedding: Jeb and Columba Bush dated for about three years before getting married in February of 1974 at a chapel on the University of Texas campus. George H.W. Bush did not meet his son’s bride until the night before the ceremony, during a dinner at an Austin restaurant called the Green Turtle.

He wasn’t the only one to find love in Mexico: Jeb Bush famously met his future wife on a school program in Leon, Mexico, while he was a student at Phillips Academy. But he was not the only Andover student to find love there. His buddy John Schmitz found a foreign girlfriend first: Columba’s sister. The pair are also married and living in the Miami area.

His business resume is interesting: Bush made millions in South Florida real estate in the 1980s and ‘90s, but he also dabbled in a broad variety of other ventures, from a corporate directorship with a secretive Swiss bank to a deal selling water pumps in Nigeria. Like his brother George, he briefly held a (tiny) ownership stake in a pro sports franchise, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

He’s a tennis ace: Bush has a competitive streak in politics that spills over into sports. In 1989, Jeb and his younger brother Marvin even beat top female pros Chris Evert and Pam Shriver in a three-set doubles match on a private tennis court in the Hart Senate building in Washington.

He was the original “severe” conservative: Move over, Mitt Romney. While campaigning for governor of Florida in 1994, Jeb said he wanted to “club this government into submission” and described himself as a “headbanging” conservative. During his 2003 second inaugural address, he laid out a utopian vision of radically shrinking government. “There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society,” he said, “than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers—silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.”

His staff is loyal: Few politicians inspire quite as much loyalty from their staffs as Bush. Time and again, former aides, friends, and associates deferred to Bush or his advisors before talking for this story. “I would describe him as flawless,” gushed one longtime friend, real estate developer Ed Easton.

His fundraising machine is in overdrive: Jeb’s team is well on its way toward what allies say is a loose goal of raising $100 million over the coming months to blow away the GOP field. At one $25,000 February event in McLean, Va., organizers drew such a large crowd they ran out of name tags. “It’s just an ass-kicking,” says a top fundraiser for one of Bush’s Republican rivals.

Read the TIME cover story here.

TIME 2016 Election

CPAC: 12 Takeaways as the GOP Presidential Race Takes Off

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Supporters watch Rand Paul speak at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Checking the scoreboard on day three

There’s still a straw-poll winner to announce, but the biggest story lines at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference have already unfolded. Here are the 12 big takeaways from the annual gathering:

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker kept the momentum alive. Riding a wave of fresh support after his Iowa debut last month, Walker was the talk of the conference and emerged even stronger despite a dustup over his comparing union protesters to ISIS fighters.

The hawkish GOP is back. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has tempered the dovish streak percolating within the party, as speaker after speaker advocated a more muscular approach to fighting the terrorist group.

That could spell trouble for Rand Paul. The Kentucky Senator is still a CPAC favorite and a force in the party, but one of the pillars of his appeal may be eroding.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush can handle the base. In a lively question-and-answer session, Bush found his footing after an uneven start and managed to escape unscathed. “That was raucous and wild,” he told supporters after, “and I loved it.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did what he had to do: convince donors and voters alike that he’s still alive and kicking in the GOP nominating fight. No one was expecting a barn burner from the moderate governor at CPAC, but he showed some familiar fight in a tough interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, peppering his answers with shots at the media and his 2016 opponents.

Republicans haven’t figured out how to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s economic priorities. Speaker after speaker tied her to Obama’s foreign policy record, but mentions of her domestic agenda—and President Obama’s—were rare and disjointed.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had another strong performance, showcasing her willingness to forcefully criticize Clinton. Fiorina has no natural constituency or discernible path to the nomination, but her ability to play Hillary’s foil positions her for success on the debate stage and could lift her to a spot on the veep short list or a Cabinet position if Republicans win the White House.

Moderators matter. The GOP is determined to mitigate the mainstream media’s impact on the nominating process, but CPAC showed that tapping ideologues to quiz the candidates carries its own problems. Fox News personality Sean Hannity served up softballs and cracked wise about former President Bill Clinton’s womanizing, while radio host Laura Ingraham laid bare her own biases by lambasting Bush and pushing Christie to do the same.

Sarah Palin can use her for talents for good. The former Alaska governor has long drawn eye rolls and sighs from Republicans for her fake flirtations with the presidency and outlandish or sometimes incoherent statements. But at CPAC, Palin delivered a substantive, impassioned speech on veterans issues that called on both parties to address the needs of those returning from war.

The First Amendment only goes so far. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson received a First Amendment Award for speaking about his faith. But the bearded reality-TV personality blew through his allotted time limit, uncorking such a long, rambling speech that the CPAC organizers had to cue up music to drive him offstage.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz will run a populist, anti-Washington campaign that juxtaposes his principled stands in the Senate with the waffling of his rivals. That should make him a force in Iowa, but he still hasn’t shown how a zealous base will give him the math needed to win the nomination in this field.

Rick Santorum is the Republican Rodney Dangerfield. The former Pennsylvania Senator carried 11 states in the 2012 nominating contest, finishing second to Mitt Romney. It was an impressive feat—yet he still gets no respect from the base, who filed out of the CPAC ballroom en masse during Santorum’s speech on Friday.

TIME

CPAC: Republicans Rediscover Their Old Hawkish Message On Foreign Policy

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

The threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria looms large

Rand Paul took the stage like a conquering hero Friday, his shirtsleeves rolled, his regular laconic manner turned fiery. The audience stacked with young libertarians gave him a standing ovation. But Paul, who became the reigning prince of the Conservative Political Action Conference partly by preaching his signature brand of non-interventionist foreign policy, had a new twist in his stump speech.

Paul tamped down his famous skepticism of military adventures, and replaced it with the more conventionally muscular rhetoric of Cold War conservatism. “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said, in comments about the fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). When it came to the question of federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

Paul was hardly the only presumptive presidential candidate to focus on the perils brewing abroad. The annual confab of conservative activists, held this week outside Washington, has showcased the Republican Party’s new embrace of its old hawkish foreign policy. It’s a dramatic shift from recent years, when CPAC has been a forum for the party to air its grievances about the sprawling U.S. surveillance state. But for the past two days, speaker after speaker has sought to demonstrate their steeliness, earning reliable cheers by taunting ISIS and slamming President Obama for seeking a deal with Iran while snubbing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Likely 2016 candidates, from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina, all roused the crowd by promising a tougher brand of foreign policy than the one practiced by Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Former Senator Rick Santorum, the runner-up for the Republican nomination in 2012, called for 10,000 U.S. ground troops in the middle to battle ISIS and urged “bombing them back to the seventh century.”

This view is increasingly popular within the party. A mid-February poll conducted by CBS News found that 72% of Republicans favor sending U.S. ground troops into Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS militants, an increase of seven percentage points since only October. That leap comes as the issue replaces the brightening economy at the top of newscasts.

According to aides to several candidates, the increased focus on foreign policy in stump speeches reflects increasing public concern as well as the belief among several campaigns that Republicans will have an edge with voters on security issues in a race against Clinton.

“Folks are getting beheaded over there,” says an adviser to one likely candidate. “People are seeing the failure of this president’s foreign policy on TV every day.”

The shifting political winds have heartened the hawkish groups who watched the GOP’s isolationist turn—and Paul’s rise—with alarm. “Rand and his acolytes hoped that if we left the world alone, the world would leave us alone. But experience is a cruel teacher, and beheadings and Iranian nukes focus the mind,” says Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. “To their credit, many of the conservatives who flirted with the Rand and Obama foreign policy are changing their minds after seeing what happens when America withdraws from the world.”

The view was a popular one at an event that is a revealing—if imperfect—glimpse of the GOP’s current zeitgeist. “National security issues must be at the center of the 2016 presidential debate,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton declared onstage, and it seemed few of his potential rivals for the nomination disagreed.

Fiorina blistered Obama and Clinton for dithering: “While you seek moral equivalence,” she said, “the world waits for moral clarity and American leadership.” Walker, who has risen in the early primary polls by positioning himself as a conservative fighter, suggested he would take an aggressive stance on foreign policy. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker said. (A spokeswoman for Walker’s political-action committee later clarified that the governor was “in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS.”)

But it was Paul, who was most notable for having freshened his message. Back in 2011, he came to CPAC to call for cuts in military spending. “If you refuse to acknowledge that there’s any waste can be culled from the military budget, you are a big-government conservative and can you not lay claim to balancing the budget,” he said. This year he claimed “a foreign policy that encourages stability, not chaos.” His many fans here say they still believe his more restrained approach will bear political fruit. Daniel Jenkins, a 28-year old Iraq veteran and Paul supporter at Charlotte School of Law, says the senator’s foreign policy will have broad appeal in the general election. “It may not be the strongest point here among these conservatives,” Jenkins says, “but I think with Independents and in the big picture, it’ll catch on.”

CPAC is still Paul’s crowd, rippling with the young libertarians who form a cornerstone of his base. And the two-time defending champ of CPAC’s symbolic straw poll is likely to make it a three-peat when the event wraps up Saturday evening. But the annual confab has also signaled the challenges that lie ahead for the Kentucky Republican.

With reporting by Sam Frizell

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