Daniel Doherty
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Get excited, guys. It’s 2013 and the gloves are already off:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had blunt words of criticism for those in the Republican party who take a turn to the libertarian way of thinking: That’s dangerous.

He made the comments Thursday in the context of speaking about victims and families of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks on America’s soil, and explaining why he objected to intelligence and military policies furthered by the likes of Sen. Rand Paul.

“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” he said from a Republican governors’ conference in Colorado, the New York Times reported.

When asked if he was referring to Mr. Paul, Mr. Christie replied:

“You can name any number of people, and he’s one of them,” he said, The New York Times reported. “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversations. And they won’t because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”

Mr. Christie then said that those who want to rein in U.S. surveillance programs ought to think twice.

And did Team Paul respond? Why, of course they did:

Members of Mr. Paul’s camp in Washington, D.C., however, got the message. And they shot back a scathing reply.

“If Governor Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is ‘esoteric,’ he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years,” one of Mr. Paul’s senior advisers said.

And that’s just a preview of things to come. Yesterday, we looked at left-leaning PPP’s findings showing Rand Paul sitting pretty as the frontrunner. Christie (along with Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan) trailed him by three percentage points, which is basically an early indication that the GOP field is wide open. That said, when Christie and Paul (presumably) both run for president in 2016, they’re going to need to discuss wedge issues that appeal to various (but not all) constituencies in the Republican Party. National security, I suspect, will be one of them.

Of course, Christie’s conservative brand is somewhat damaged for effusively (and some might say needlessly) praising the president during the last election cycle at the worst possible moment. So re-emphasizing his hawkishness three years before primary season isn’t the worst way to get back into the base’s good graces. Remember, Chris Christie is a Republican governor from a very liberal state, but he’s no social moderate. He and Paul presumably see eye-to-eye on many different issues. But the role of government vis-à-vis protecting Americans and combating terrorism abroad is one issue, in particular, in which they obviously don't. Get the popcorn ready, my friends. This debate will be fascinating to watch.

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Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography