On Friday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) made a dramatic policy shift by denouncing perceived overreach by the National Security Agency (NSA), and the ramifications are incredible for the Republican party. At the RNC’s annual winter meeting, prominent Republicans resolved to abandon their cautious support for the NSA’s controversial phone tracking program as well as resolving to demand an investigation into the program in what may be seen as the RNC officially going libertarian.
Since the now infamous leaks released by former NSA worker Edward Snowden came to light, there has been controversy over whether the government is allowed to collect virtually unlimited amounts of data from unwitting Americans. Proponents of the program, many of whom are members of the Republican party itself, say that the surveillance is entirely necessary to effectively prevent terrorism. Opponents suggest that it is an illegal and unconstitutional overreach that is unnecessary and severely damaging to civil liberties.
Following a report by the impartial Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the RNC made its decision: the blanket collection of information from American citizens is illegal and entirely unconstitutional, and the Republican Party would strive to pass a bill to strike down that program. This has broken with traditional Republican wisdom, as the same party in the Bush-era would have never called for the program’s dissolution.
Although this is welcome news to some, there are detractors in the party who feel that the NSA’s conduct does not overreach at all in this regard. Going against the libertarian movement within Republican circles are individuals such as Representative Peter King of New York. Specifically, King’s ire has been focused on how denouncing the NSA diminishes the Republican brand in regards to being the party of national defense. Although the RNC has not commented on King’s remarks, it is clear that there is significant disagreement within the party.
The RNC’s decision is one part of a larger civil war for the party itself. Social conservatives and libertarians have been at odds with one another in regards to what the party stands for and what branding is necessary to be an electable party. In breaking rank and file with some traditionally social conservative tenants, it appears as though views of people such as Senator Rand Paul are winning favor over the views of Representative King.
As well, it draws a stark line in the political policy sand in terms of what is most important to the Republican party. Does the GOP see itself as the party of national defense and infallible security policy, or is it to be framed as the party that steadfastly enshrines the constitution to the letter? These are natural contradictions which some argue need to be resolved if the party is to be successful in 2016. Many suggest that the Republican brand cannot ever win if it is not at least cohesive.
With the RNC going libertarian in a serious way on a serious issue, they become more cohesive. Although Representative King and others are openly aghast by the denouncing of the NSA and its perceived overreach, it does at least demonstrate that Republicans are coming together in a general way to make a more appealing party. By doing this, the RNC has demonstrated some of the party’s true colors, and it is likely that it will go a long way to helping put their candidate in the White House come 2016.
By Brett Byers-Lane