If Republicans had any questions about which presidential candidates are willing to sacrifice individual liberty for a perceived increase in national security, the last Republican debate of 2015 in Las Vegas helped them make up their minds. 

Virtually all candidates in the Republican field support a strong national defense. Yet, for some candidates, that support has given way to embracing far-reaching government information-grabbing programs, speech limitations and, potentially, cruel-and-unusual punishment.

That slippery ideological slope is evident in a number of presidential hopefuls, who are completely fine with the federal government capturing tomes of information about Americans through programs with questionable due-process controls.

Earlier this year, a Federal Bureau of Investigation inspector-general’s report noted that, while FBI agents viewed information they gathered through mass surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act as “valuable,” they “did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained.” In June, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which placed new limits on mass data collection.

Those limitations haven’t set well with many Republican candidates.

John Kasich said, “We don’t want to err on the side of having less [information]. We want to err on the side of having more.” Kasich also added that data encryption, the same kind that protects private information on smartphones, is a problem that needs a government solution. 

Marco Rubio was equally bullish on a government data grab. He argued that the next president shouldn’t be forced to respond to future terror attacks by saying that we didn’t have “access to records or information that would have allowed us to identify these killers before they attacked.”

When it comes to how much information the government would like to bring in the door, the answer is always the same: more. It’s a lazy approach to security and Republicans who support sweeping information collection should question their dedication to a restrained federal government. 

On the most extreme end, Donald Trump was willing to shut down portions of the Internet to combat terrorism and potentially harm the families of suspected terrorists. 

“I would be very, very firm with families,” said Trump. “Frankly, that will make people think, because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

Since when did constitutional fidelity become so passé for Republican candidates seeking to hold our nation’s highest office?

Whether it’s due process, free speech or prohibitions against cruel-and-unusual punishments, conservatives need to think long and hard about whether candidates are preserving the liberties that make us Americans or simply trying to politicize our real fears and concerns.

The emerging ideological schism between constitutional loyalty and the government’s response to terrorism is more than a mere policy detail; it’s a fundamental posture toward government.

Our rights are not mere conveniences. In fact, the Constitution is never more critical to freedom than when we are afraid and willing to compromise our liberties more quickly than we ought. Conservatives would be wise to remember that when sifting through Republican presidential candidates. 

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