The recent and highly public spat between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) perfectly encapsulates the conflicted state of modern Republican Party. On one hand, the libertarian leaning — non-interventionist — Paul. On the other, the perceived typical Northeastern moderate Republican Christie. Recently speaking at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, Christie attacked the Senator and his other fellow libertarians for their "esoteric debates" and their inability to recognize the national security needs of the country. This back and forth captures the ideological tension that exists within the party, which only becomes more pronounced as we get closer to the 2016 primary.
Historically, the Republican Party's stance on staple issues such as national security has been unified, but the growing presence of libertarian philosophies has instigated a public display of internal disagreement. In his discussion, Christie praised President Obama's foreign policy as being nearly identical to that of President Bush, saying, "they work." Invoking the September 11th attacks, Christie asked if as a country "we have amnesia." "I remember what we felt like on September 12," he said. Calling libertarianism a "very dangerous thought," Christie talked about how President Obama's vision on foreign policy changed very quickly once he was elected. "As someone who has top-secret clearance, when [Obama] sits in that chair and starts to hear those briefings, man, is his tune going to change fast ... and it has."
Paul responded, tweeting, "Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional."
There has been an increase in libertarian ideology as more Americans are taking issue with the leaked NSA surveillance programs and drone strikes abroad. Both the governor and the senator are considered to be potential candidates for the Republican nomination in a few years, yet their foreign policy and homeland security platforms would be significantly different. Christie would most likely favor maintaining a strong military in addition to supporting covert operations and surveillance programs, while Paul would oppose such action unless it was related to direct self-defense. The senator has repeatedly said that the Patriot Act is intrusive and that it is what our Founding Fathers feared.
Paul leads a recent Public Policy Polling poll taken among voters in the highly contested state of Iowa, with 16% of Republican primary voters saying they would vote for him if the election were held now. The governor polled right behind him at 13%. This was a shift from the PPP's May poll, showing Christie at 15% and Paul at 14%. The recent poll also created a hypothetical presidential race between a Republican candidate and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Paul trails Clinton 39% to 47%, while Christie statistically ties Clinton 42% to 43%.
The recent explosion of libertarian philosophy into the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party could cause a shift in which candidate the Republicans choose to nominate in 2016. During the past two elections, the GOP has nominated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — who share similar ideologies as Christie (though he is more moderate) — and have lost both times. It remains to be seen if the GOP will look to Rand Paul to lead the party into a new, more libertarian era that could attract more independent and even Democratic voters.