The Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of an at-times gruesome report detailing the Central Intelligence Agency’s controversial policies exposed a still-lingering divide within the Republican Party over the legacy of President George W. Bush — particularly in the foreign-policy realm.
The divisions, seven years after Bush left office, are likely to continue and play out in public as numerous Republicans consider mounting a presidential run in 2016.
“There’s a fundamental divide over foreign policy in the Republican camp. It's much deeper than just the Bush legacy,” said Ian Bremmer, the president of the risk-consulting firm Eurasia Group.
The various Republican sub-camps split like this on Tuesday: There were those who stood behind the CIA’s controversial detention-and-interrogation programs of the Bush years, which were undertaken in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Others called the release of the report a partisan attack against Bush by a Democratic-chaired committee.
And then there were some who voiced support of the report, saying in much of the same way as President Barack Obama that it’s important to acknowledge what the U.S. did and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
One of the Republicans in the latter camp was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who is seriously mulling a 2016 run. He told reporters Tuesday that he thinks “we should not have torture,” urging other legislators to take a clear stance. The only thing that troubled him about the report’s release was whether some of the report’s more “gruesome” details would be beneficial or inflammatory.
“It’s important that people take a stand and representatives take a stand on whether they believe torture should be allowed. I think we should not have torture,” Paul said.
His office did not respond to a request for further comment.
Paul was unusually on the same wavelength as Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), two of the Republican Party’s biggest foreign-policy hawks who have at times criticized some of Paul’s more non-interventionist stances.
For McCain, it was personal. He gave a rousing speech on the Senate floor reflecting on his own personal experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. McCain said he thought the CIA programs “stained our national honor,” and he said it was important for the American people to come to their own conclusions in light of the facts.
Though he condemned the timing of the report’s release, Graham agreed with McCain’s sentiment.
"As a military lawyer for more than 30 years, I believe we can and must fight this war within our values,” Graham said.
“I supported the investigation of the CIA as the problems of interrogation policies were obvious to me. I do not condone torture and continue to believe abusive detention and interrogation techniques used in the past were counterproductive. I'm very happy the techniques in question are no longer utilized."
But many more Republicans — members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and other senior Republican senators, including incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — attacked the report as a partisan vehicle that could endanger the lives of American troops abroad.
Soon-to-be Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) concluded that the only motivation for Democrats to release the report could be to “embarrass George W. Bush.”
They were joined by prospective 2016ers. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who is mulling a presidential run, released a joint statement with Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) in which the pair called the release “reckless and irresponsible.” They said civilian and uniformed personnel deserved “gratitude, not politically motivated attacks.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a conservative firebrand who has gained rapid credibility within Republican foreign-policy circles, was sure to note that he believes “torture is wrong” before he blistered the Democratic committee.
“Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong. But today’s partisan report will endanger lives, drive away our allies – who have never been more needed than now – and undermine the ability of our intelligence officers and soldiers to protect our national security,” Cruz said.
“After six years, enough with saying ‘everything is George W. Bush's fault.’ It’s sad that, with all the threats we face across the globe, Senate Democrats are still more interested in scoring political points against the Bush administration than in working together to keep America safe and our military strong.”
The Republican divisions on foreign policy could become a very public area of dispute in front of the 2016 cameras, especially if Paul enters the race. He has been advocating a less interventionist approach to American foreign policy, something that has drawn him more and more criticism with the rise of the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
Polls show that the American public has grown considerably more hawkish over the past six months, as Obama has expanded the U.S. fight against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Republican foreign-policy hawks think they’ve been proven right by the seemingly endless sprouting up of new turmoil in the world, from ISIS to the crisis in Ukraine.
Michael Goldfarb, the founder of the conservative Washington Free Beacon, has said he thinks those in Paul’s general camp will be pushed aside for a more hawkish nominee. And he said Republican support of the CIA’s programs will continue to be a winner heading into 2016.
“The CIA program was good policy, and I think it remains good politics for Republicans to support it,” Goldfarb said in an email. “Which may explain why Democrats waited until after the election to release this thing.”
Former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), who once chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fusion the release of the report presented an opportunity for both Republicans to have a genuine discussion about the mission of the CIA.
“My hope is that there’s a conclusion that some of these intelligence techniques, the way that some people were tortured, that we really want to reform” the agency, Lugar said.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.