If the 2016 presidential election were an opera, Act One began last week with sparring between two of the leading GOP candidates, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The rift exposed a yawning ideological gap in the Republican party and raised questions about who is most likely to have a fighting chance against Hillary Clinton three years from now.
It all started when Governor Christie criticized Senator Paul's vocal opposition to warrantless federal surveillance programs, saying it hurt efforts to thwart terrorism. He even extended the invitation to "come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation."
Senator Paul dismissed these attacks as "kind of cheap and sad" and suggested that if Governor Christie "cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn't be in this "'give me, give me, give me all of the money' [mindset] that you have in Washington."
The sparring continued as Governor Christie suggested that Senator Paul should "start cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky.... And most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they can get re-elected."
Senator Paul could not have been set up any better for a crushing retort. "This is the king of bacon talking about bacon," he said incredulously during an interview on CNN's The Situation Room. He clarified: "You know, we have two military bases in Kentucky. What does he want to do, shut down military bases in Kentucky?"
All of these comments were made with the coming battle royale in mind.
The GOP establishment has come to Christie’s defense, even after many of its card-carrying members swore they would have nothing to do with the Governor after his embrace of Obama post-Sandy. They prefer his expansive vision of government, if only to keep their own nests feathered. They have no objections to warrantless wiretapping and drone strikes on American citizens. They deplore the rambunctious Tea Party strain that took aim at their privilege since 2010 and was embodied that year by the surprise victory of Rand Paul over their preferred moderate Trey Grayson.
Governor Christie is ensconced with the clueless consultant class, the same gurus and political geniuses who advised Rubio to torpedo his presidential campaign before it even started with an amnesty plan with Chuck Schumer.
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