This morning, Ed Kilgore reflected on the fact that the only real ideological divide in the Republican Party is over national security. That is true, although even Rand Paul has shown himself to be nothing is not malleable when it comes to ideology. But it is true that yesterday, a large bipartisan minority voted for an amendment to the half trillion dollar defense authorization to restrict the NSA’s ability to collect telephone metadata on US calls. The final vote was 205-217, so it only barely lost.
Kilgore speculated that there would have been more Democratic votes for the amendment if a Republican had been in the White House. Of course that’s true. Even still, I’m pretty happy with the party; they voted in favor of the amendment 111-83—that’s 57% of the caucus on a bill where the leadership and the White House were very vocal about how it would mean the end of free society and would effectively mean the terrorists won.
On the Republican side, Kilgore is less certain about how the White House control affected the vote. As it was, while Republicans voted for the amendment in large numbers, they did not have a majority. The vote was 94-134—that’s just 41%. I suspect that had a Republican been in the White House, that number would have gone down to perhaps 30%.
The main question is why some Republicans care about privacy issues while others do not. Kilgore noted, “I certainly haven’t figured out any consistent principle … that makes it possible to predict which fire-eating Tea Party conservative these days is frothing for an immediate war with Iran and perhaps domestic profiling of Muslims, and which is worried about excessive overseas commitments or domestic surveillance.” For example, Michele Bachmann and Steve King both voted against the amendment.
I think what explains this is the same thing I’ve been arguing for years: the tea party is no kind of small-government libertarian movement. It has always been just a branding campaign for the Republican base. But because all of their supposed worship of the founding fathers, “tea party” is a moniker that appeals to libertarian minded politicians. But these people don’t get elected because of their isolationist leanings; they get elected because they are against abortion rights and are no-tax ideologues.
So that is what defines the Tea Party. Beyond that, we can generally say that they are supporters of big military and big surveillance. Some of them (a distinct minority) do have libertarian leanings. But that’s not what the Tea Party movement is all about because that’s not what the Republican Party is all about. And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there might be small disagreements inside, because they are distinctly not what the movement is about.
Note that libertarian minded people would be crazy to vote for libertarian “sounding” members of the Republican Party. If you care about actual libertarian policy, all you will get from such people is lip service to ideals and votes that push the country further toward a big military feudalism. Sad as it may be, the Democratic Party is far more inclined toward libertarian policy than the Republicans.