Rand Paul vs. Chris Christie: Who wins with Republicans?

Usually we urge caution about reading 2016 maneuvers into every little political thing these days, but this one has gotten too much attention to resist. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., (both atop the rumored list of potential Republican presidential candidates) have been trading barbs over national security policy, after Christie chastised Republicans who'd opposed the NSA's phone records program, arguing it's necessary for national security; Paul, who comes from a more libertarian stance, has been skeptical of it. So does this really echo a fissure in the Republican Party, and if so who's on the winning side of it?

Yes - and it's a draw. Republicans are divided on the policy, splitting 48-48 in the latest CBS News poll on the question of whether collection of phone records was a "necessary too to help find terrorists."

To get a deeper look at where the lines are within the party we combined the last two CBS News polls, from June and this month (that allows larger sample sizes to compare subgroups) and each of which had GOPers split along with the rest of the country. It shows there's a divide even within Republicans, so there's no clear constituency that'll be immediately won over by this. Paul is one of the original tea party-backed officials; Tea party supporters today are themselves divided on the question with 44 percent saying it is necessary to find terrorists and only slightly more, 48 percent, saying it isn't.

There's a little bit of connection to ideology, but not a lot.

Self-described Republican conservatives split with 45 percent calling it necessary and 49 percent saying it isn't. Moderates (of whom there are fewer within the party) are just a little more behind the program, calling it necessary 55 to 41 percent, but that's not an overwhelming gap. So this isn't an issue easily labeled a "conservative" one or not.

And regionally (always a consideration once primaries start) there isn't much difference either. Republicans in the northeast - where, as part of their back and forth, Paul warned that Republicans were becoming an endangered species - as well as the south and west all divide about evenly with slight majorities saying necessary.

Intraparty squabbles like this - some overblown, some not; some intentional and some not - are inevitable as contenders start to jockey and it's typical to see them probe for ways to separate themselves within the same party. This one has started to touch on other topics too, like Hurricane Sandy aid, and the broader direction of the party, so stay tuned.

  • Anthony Salvanto On Twitter»

    Anthony Salvanto is CBS News elections director

Comments