Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Sunday that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is leading the Republican Party in a dangerous direction and compared him to 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose district includes Long Island, expresses his anger and disappointment during a cable TV interview, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, after the House GOP leadership decided late New Year's Day to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Rep. Peter King R-N.Y.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"When you have Rand Paul actually comparing (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden to Martin Luther King or Henry David Thoreau, this is madness," King said on CNN's "State of the Union." "This is the anti-war, left-wing Democrats of the 1960s that nominated George McGovern and destroyed their party for almost 20 years. I don't want that to happen to our party."

Democrats nominated the anti-war, liberal McGovern in 1972 as the party split ideologically. He took less than 38 percent of the popular vote and lost 49 states to then-president Richard Nixon.

Paul last month suggested Snowden might only be guilty of civil disobedience rather than treason, noting Martin Luther King and Thoreau served only days in jail when they were convicted.

King said it was "disturbing" that 94 of the 234 House Republicans voted for a measure last week that would have defunded the National Security Agency's phone record collection program.

King, the former House homeland security committee chairman, has been among the more hawkish voices in the party in recent months and in recent days suggested he might run for president in 2016 -- if for no other reason than to be a voice in opposition to Paul's foreign policy views.

His criticism of the House's NSA vote echoes that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who on Thursday went after the the new "strain of libertarianism" in the GOP and suggested libertarians should explain their positions to the widows and orphans left by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Update 6:31 p.m.: Paul responds via Twitter: