A great question from Jonathan Tobin about Rand Paul & the GOP

Is the GOP Now Rand Paul’s Party?

tobinJonathan S. Tobin is one of my favorite bloggers at Commentary.

Even when he strongly disagrees with someone, he manages to maintain his balance.

He’s been fair to my side of things—the Ted Cruz/Tea Party side—even though he vehemently disagrees with us much of the time.

Unlike his colleague John Podhoretz, Tobin wrote admiringly of Rand Paul’s filibuster—even though he disagreed with most of the point Paul was trying to make (Rand Paul’s Moment of Glory).

Today Tobin asks a great question:

Is the GOP now Rand Paul’s party?

A year after Paul rocketed to stardom with a 13-hour Senate filibuster protesting administration policy on drone strikes against terror targets, the younger Paul is a genuine GOP star and a potential first-tier presidential contender for 2016. Unlike Ted Cruz he chose not to identify himself with the cause of the government shutdown that so tarnished the GOP brand last fall, thus showing he is willing to edge closer to the party establishment on tactics. More importantly, his views on distrust of government and foreign policy—positions that were bolstered by a series of Obama administration scandals involving the IRS, spying, and Benghazi—seem more mainstream today than ever. Though Paul’s stunt to force the government to give up its collection program may fail, the question is whether Paul’s views reflect mainstream Republican thinking. An even better question is if they are not, why aren’t more GOP leaders publicly disagreeing with Paul?

I think the answer lies in the man Tobin contrasts Paul with.

Ted Cruz.

Tobin didn’t like—still doesn’t like—Cruz’s government shutdown.

However, as I read Tobin and as I review Cruz’s stands on the national security in general and the NSA in particular, I suspect they would find a lot in common.

On “Fox and Friends” Monday morning, Sen. Ted Cruz explained that even though he was concerned about the new revelations of the National Security Agency surveillance programs, he cautioned against Americans rushing to judgment on the issue.

“I think it depends on what the contours of the program are and I don’t think we should rush to judgment or jump to conclusions,” the Texas Republican said when asked about the controversial nature of the programs.

Via the Examiner, a short but noteworthy clip insofar as it exposes a potential fault line between Cruz and Rand Paul. McCain lumps them together as “wacko birds” but I’m not so sure that’s true of Cruz on national-security issues. His alliance with Paul interests me because it strikes me as a personification of the uneasy libertarian/tea-party alliance. The groups overlap heavily on spending issues, and both are deeply suspicious of Obama’s expansion of government. The master stroke of Paul’s drone filibuster was that he found a sweet spot for both, making the philosophical case for due process while humiliating O for having turned into such a hypocrite about it. Even so, no matter how much Paul sometimes likes to pretend that the tea party is synonymous with libertarianism (for his own strategic reasons), various polls show that it just isn’t so. Tea partiers are more socially conservative than doctrinaire libertarians, they’re more likely to support entitlements, and they’re more traditionally Republican on defense/security issues. That’s not to say that they’re not becoming more libertarian — polls lately show Republicans are more skeptical about NSA surveillance than Democrats are, although that’s probably for partisan reasons — but they’re not all Ron Paul fans either. That’s why Rand is usually quick to claim the tea-party label. The more he gets TPers thinking of themselves as allied with him, then theoretically the more receptive they’ll be to his libertarian ideals.

McCain doesn’t seem to understand the difference between them but comparing Paul’s reaction to the NSA revelations to Cruz’s is instructive. Paul’s first instinct was to organize a class-action lawsuit and accuse the NSA of an “extraordinary invasion of [Americans’] privacy.” Cruz, by contrast, says the revelations are “cause for concern” but urges Fox viewers to reserve judgment until we know more about the programs. And from the looks of it here, his chief objection seems to be that this particular administration can’t be trusted with NSA’s surveillance tools in light of the IRS scandal, not necessarily that any administration can’t be trusted with it. He may very well end up joining Paul’s lawsuit, but I suspect that’ll be aimed at impressing libertarians whose votes he’ll need if he ends up running for president someday just as Rand often tempers his own libertarianism in order to impress more mainstream tea-party conservatives. Cruz’s ally, Sarah Palin (who returned to Fox this morning, although she doesn’t speak in this clip) seems to be taking a position similar to his lately.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, is trying to refocus the debate over National Security Agency surveillance on the terrorists who actually succeed in pulling off attacks in the United States.

“The federal government has not been effective enough monitoring and surveilling bad guys,” Cruz said this week as the Senate awaited President Barack Obama’s NSA reform proposals which he’ll announce Friday. “We have not succeeded in preventing what should have been preventable terrorist attacks,” such as Major Nidal Hassan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas in which he killed 13 people.

  • Video (Sen. Ted Cruz Q&A in Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Government Surveillance Programs):

But what about the GOP?

I think some of my neoconservative and national security hawk friends are terrified of Ron Paul-style isolationism taking over the Republican Party.

Tobin obviously has some concerns, even though he’s maintained more calm than most of his allies.

Which is good, because overreacting and defensiveness are just likely to turn the GOP against them as anything Rand Paul will cook up to get his way.

As I said, I suspect Tobin and Cruz see eye to eye on most of this.

Now if I could just get them in the same room…



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