The 2016 Republican clown car has already started revving its engines. In a Thursday speech at the Aspen Institute, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie slammed the “strain of libertarianism” going through “both parties” right now, challenging fellow Republicans to “sit across from the widows and the orphans” and explain their opposition to NSA surveillance tactics.
This prompted Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to shoot back in the most mature way possible, saying Christie is one the people who is “unwilling to cut the spending and their ‘gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme all my Sandy money now.’”
But the back and forth between Chris Christie and Rand Paul may be more than a simple dust-up between two would-be rivals.
The spat is exposing deep divisions within the GOP over national security and the size—and scope—of government. As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, “…the choice in 2016 will be heavily defined by just how much libertarianism Republicans want in their party. The answer isn’t certain yet. But it is telling that 40 percent of the House Republican conference voted for legislation that would have significantly curtailed the reach of a government program designed, at least in part, to prevent terrorist attacks.”
The House vote to restrict surveillance of Americans phone records may have narrowly failed, but there is no guarantee it won’t pass next time. The American Civil Liberties Union—no typical Republican interest group—hailed the vote as “the best vote we’ve ever had on the Patriot Act,” and a “sea change” in how Congress views surveillance. And a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday shows Republicans are becoming fewer in number and more conservative in ideology. More than half of respondents said the party was not conservative enough. On hot-button issues, the numbers were even higher. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Republicans said their leaders were not conservative enough on immigration.
This has some conservatives insisting that there’s nothing to see here: Appearing on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor last night, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer described the feud thusly:
“Well it’s not exactly a game of croquet, but it’s more of a tug of war at a family picnic. One side will pull the other into the mud, they’ll all clean themselves up, and then they’ll drink wine and have a jolly time.”
If that’s true, the tug of war seems unlikely to end any time soon.