Last week Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) helped block an extension of the Patriot Act's notorious Section 215, and an amendment-less version of the USA Freedom Act, and a number of temporary extenstions of the surveillance status quo, giving the Senate essentially one day—May 31—to vote on something (and get the House to agree) before a number of Patriot Act provisions expire. As The New York Times reports, "That hard deadline again puts the fate of Section 215 in the hands of Mr. Paul, who has made his stand against government surveillance central to his presidential aspirations."
In an interview on CBS This Morning today, Paul played Mr. Reasonable. "I'm just asking for two amendments and a simple majority vote," he said. Unsurprisingly, the pro-interventionist GOP establishment sees things a different way.
Here's hawkish horse-whisperer William Kristol, on ABC News this weekend:
Rand Paul has now decided he wants to be a liberal Democrat—undercut necessary intelligence collection, weaken the police officers and our intelligence services. And Rand Paul thinks that's going to sell in a Republican primary. I think he's deeply misguided about that. But I guess he sincerely believes it.
Floundering New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who last presidential cycle was seen as a very promising candidate/blank slate onto whom hawks could project their interventionism, continued his long-running bet that explicitly anti-libertarian politics is where the GOP is at:
In a statement from his political action committee, Christie slammed "misguided ideologues" with "no real world experience in fighting terrorism" for "putting their uninformed beliefs above the safety and security of our citizens." […]
"The Senate's failure to extend the Patriot Act is a failure of the U.S. government to perform its most important function — protecting its citizens from harm," he said. "This dysfunction is what we have come to expect from Washington, D.C., but usually it does not have such dangerous and severe consequences."
For a Jersey libertarian's take on Christie's bluster, I recommend Paul Mulshine. Meanwhile, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who last month clucked that surveillance is "the best part of the Obama administration," said he agrees with Christie:
"There is ample evidence that the PATRIOT Act has been a tool to keep us safe," Bush continued. "There is no evidence of anyone's civil liberties being violated because of it."
Other conservatives in the stand-against-Rand caucus include South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham ("I'm going to challenge his construct that the NSA and those who work there are more dangerous to our country than the al-Qaeda and ISIL threat"), Graham's Arizona pal Sen. John McCain ("Some time ago senators would try to sit down and work things out and obviously these individuals don't believe in that, and I'm sure it's a great revenue raiser"), John Sununu ("Senator Paul is also an advocate of gutting the defense budget. He's in fact to the left of Obama on both of those issues"), Max Boot ("these lawmakers are holding…renewal hostage until they get what they want—which is weaken our defenses against terrorism"), Andrew C. McCarthy ("Rand Paul is laughably wrong when he insists the NSA program violates the Fourth Amendment"), and so on.
What's interesting is that, as McCarthy explicitly acknowledges and laments, the pro-surveillance hawks are losing the argument. Rand Paul—excuse me, the dangerously unserious Rand Paul—has changed the debate, and he might well end up changing the law, too. Mark my words from July 2013: If Paul were to somehow come out the other end of all this as the GOP nominee, there will be some star-studded names at the Neocons for Hillary PAC.