He’s light on specifics here about the pros and cons of the NSA program as he sees them, but any time three serious contenders for 2016 are in a scrum over national security and civil liberties, it’s blogworthy. More than that, it’s blogworthy because the Paul/Cruz Senate partnership is to some extent a proxy for the tea-party/libertarian partnership generally. It won’t go on forever, but it’s fascinating while it lasts. I won’t bore you with rehashing why I think Cruz is more a tea partier than a true blue libertarian; read these two posts if you care, or read Nick Gillespie for the libertarian take on why Cruz doesn’t really belong in the movement. Wherever you think Cruz lies on the ideological spectrum, though, he’s a shrewd judge of where his base stands on the issues. And in this case, he’s right in thinking that they Stand With Rand too.
In fact, before you watch the clip below, go back and watch this very short clip of Cruz on “Fox & Friends” in mid-June, after Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations. He was asked what he thinks of NSA surveillance — and his response was basically noncommittal. He said the program is “cause for concern” but cautioned that we shouldn’t rush to judgment; his main worry about the program seemed to be that Obama might abuse it to target his political enemies. By contrast, Rand Paul had already announced a week before that he hoped to sue the NSA program into oblivion. Why is Cruz firmly with Rand now when he wasn’t before? Could be that the accumulation of leaks about what the feds are doing has finally driven him firmly into the libertarian camp, but the most damaging stuff that Snowden had — the details of government spying on Americans — had already leaked by the time of his F&F appearance. Paul, as I said, had already seen more than enough to demand a class action lawsuit against the feds by that point.
What you’re seeing here, I think, is Cruz executing the opposite of Paul’s 2016 strategy. Paul’s really a doctrinaire libertarian who’s inched towards mainstream righties on some issues (most notably immigration) because he knows he needs a broader coalition to be viable for the nomination. Cruz is really a tea partier who’s inched towards doctrinaire libertarianism on some issues (most notably drones and the NSA) because he recognizes TPers have become more libertarian and because he’s hoping to pick up Paul’s supporters in the primaries if/when he emerges as the right-wing choice against the establishment. It’s a smart strategy. Expect Rubio and Scott Walker to become more libertarian-friendly over the next year or two also. Click the image to watch.