What the Chris Christie vs. Rand Paul feud taught us

August 1, 2013

The nearly week-long feud between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul appears to be winding down, but not before the phrase "king of bacon" was used and we learned a few lessons going forward.

Lesson #1: The 2016 race is already well underway.

Every once in a while, in a moment of quiet introspection, the Fix wonders whether we aren't getting ahead of ourselves by ranking the top 10 contenders for the 2016 presidential nominations. Then something like this happens and we remember that presidential politics never stops.

There's really no reason for Christie and Paul to get into a back and forth over libertarianism and federal spending if not for 2016 considerations. (Try to remember another confrontation between politicians from Kentucky and New Jersey. It never happens.)

Rand
AP photo

But, both men have made no secret of their interest in the top spot and once Christie took a shot at libertarianism during a forum in Aspen, Colo., last week, Paul was, of course, going to respond.

Which bring us to....

Lesson #2: Christie and Paul fighting is a win-win for both men.

There's a reason that Christie and Paul went back and forth (and then back and forth again) at each other.  And that reason is simple: It's good politics for both of them.

For Christie, it affirms his speak-truth-to-power persona while also staking out ground as a natural heir to the Republican party of Ronald Reagan. For Paul, it makes clear that he is a different sort of Republican, one who won't follow the same old playbook that has kept the party out of the White House for what will end up being at least eight years.

And, it's far from a zero-sum game for the duo. While Christie and Paul are likely to seek the Republican nomination in 2016, the sort of GOP voter they are going for just isn't the same.  People who liked Paul before this clash will love him now. And those who didn't, won't. Same goes for Christie.

While, eventually, they might have to face off against one another in a one-on-one for the nomination, that's a ways down the road.

Lesson #3: The philosophical battle lines of the 2016 GOP fight are drawn.

We've suspected for a while now that the growing libertarian strain within the GOP would come to play a central-ish role in the fight for the future direction of the party. But, Christie's decision to go after libertarianism in such a direct way affirms that belief.

Assuming Jeb Bush doesn't run for president (and it seems like a 50-50 proposition at the moment), then Christie will almost certainly be the candidate of the center/right while Paul will quite clearly be the guy occupying the libertarian space.  Everyone else in the field -- Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- will slot themselves in between those two ideological poles.

Lesson #4: Christie's weight will be an issue in 2016.

Ask Paul and his allies and they will insist that referring to Christie as the "king of bacon" had everything to do with his approach to federal spending and nothing to do with his weight.

But, as we have written before, it's hard to see Christie's weight not being at least a below-the-surface issue in the race to come -- and, if you didn't think of the governor's weight when you first heard Paul's "bacon" comments, then you are, well, not paying attention.

Whether directly or indirectly, these sorts of comments -- and double entendres -- that maybe, might be construed to be shots at Christie's weight will continue to come up.

Fixbits:

President Obama defended Larry Summers in meetings with congressional Democrats.

And Obama told Democratic senators he is now personally involved in resolving a dispute over the way Obamacare treats members and aides on Capitol Hill.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has a confirmed leader for the first time in seven years after Todd Jones passed on a 53-42 vote by the Senate.

Conservative super PACs clocked in with modest fundraising hauls during the first half of the year.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) shied away from some rough rhetoric in the fight over defunding Obamacare.

The House approved a Senate-passed student loan measure.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) argues House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should let the House vote in the Senate immigration bill in a new op-ed.

New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan's job approval rating has ticked up.

Hillary Clinton vs. Paul would be a "tough choice," says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Must-reads: 

"Libertarians flex their muscle in the GOP" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"10 Republicans Who Could Be Speaker" -- Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, Roll Call

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Chris Cillizza · July 31, 2013