Despite the presidential election being years away, some of the potential Republican candidates are already taking shots at each other over the direction the party will take on national security, further laying bare the growing rifts within the Grand Old Party on the subject.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been making a name for himself during his first term as a voice speaking out against the establishment GOP’s security policies. In February, he gained widespread attention with his “Stand With Rand” filibuster, a nineteen-hour spectacle in which he protested the Obama administration’s secrecy surrounding its counterterrorism policies. Since then, he’s clashed repeatedly with other Republicans on these issues, including the recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of phone and internet data.
It’s Paul’s comments on the NSA’s programs that prompted New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) to call out the senator at a forum last Thursday. Speaking in Colorado, Christie warned of a “strain of libertarianism” in both parties seeking to challenge the post-9/11 security environment, pointing to Paul as a prime example. “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation,” Christie said. “And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”
Paul fired back on Sunday, defending his position as being more geared towards the youth vote that the GOP desperately needs to attract. “If you talk about some privacy issues like that, I think you will find youth coming to you,” said Paul. He sought to make his position on intelligence gathering clear as well: “I don’t mind spying on terrorists … I just don’t like spying on all Americans.”
Since the failure of the neocon inspired Bush-era foreign policy, and its subsequent unpopularity, the Republican Party has increasingly been at odds on national security issues, a rift that played out just last week when many House Republicans voted in support of the bipartisan measure to scale back NSA counterterror programs.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recently clashed with Paul on foreign policy in a wide-ranging speech that many saw as a challenge to the isolationist wing of the party, calling his drone filibuster “misguided.” And another potential GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also took a swing at Paul back in March, saying “The alternative to U.S. [engagement] on the global stage is chaos.”
And while Paul’s foreign policy vision has received some support within the GOP, the Republican establishment sometimes still sticks to what it knows best. During the crisis on the Korean peninsula back in April, the House Republican leadership turned to Dick Cheney for advice. “We appreciate the vice president for sharing his insight and experience on the matter,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).