At National Review, Joel Gehrke reports that the Ted Cruz campaign "thinks it has identified a way to begin" to "pick off enough libertarian votes to hobble Rand Paul." How? By running to the right of Paul on national security:
Perhaps surprisingly, Cruz's [analytics] team discovered that national security is a prominent and growing concern among libertarian voters. "There is a plurality of libertarians whose top issue is national security today," [Cruz campaign director of research and analytics Chris] Wilson says, pegging the figure in the mid-30s. "Now, I doubt that was the case in 2008. It may not have been even in 2012. But today it is." Consequently, he believes that Cruz's support for the USA Freedom Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed begrudgingly after failing to pass a bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act, hit the sweet spot in terms of appealing to libertarians who dislike the NSA but fear ISIS.
Are libertarian-leaning Republicans really worried that Rand Paul is too soft on ISIS? Color me doubtful. While there's no doubt that Americans as a whole, Republicans especially, are more anxious about national security and more willing to send out American bombers than they were in 2013, hawks in my estimation have been wishful in their thinking that those numbers has made re-palatable notions like pre-emptive war and American boots on the ground in the Middle East. Being worried about ISIS is not the same as endorsing whatever Marco Rubio thinks we should do about the Islamic State. If interventionism was really back in vogue GOP candidates wouldn't have spend a week in mid-May stumbling over the Iraq War.
It's more likely here that analytics are being bent to fit a strategic reality and imperative. Which is to say, Ted Cruz is going after the libertarian vote (in addition to the overlapping Tea Party vote and especially the social conservative bloc), and he is more hawkish than Paul, so he's going to continue heightening the contrasts while looking for positions and rhetoric that don't totally alienate people who distrust the National Security Agency. I'm no Cruz fan, but I'd rather have two of the party's top five or six candidates vying for the libertarian vote than just one.
* Paul and Cruz Are Running to Clinton's Left on Sentencing Reform, by Jacob Sullum.
* Rand Paul and Ted Cruz: Separated at Birth? Uh, No., by J.D. Tuccille.