Typically, a fight produces a winner and a loser. But that's not the case in the spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). In their clash over national security ideology, both men stand to gain politically in the near term.
Christie's hard stance against the libertarian view of foreign policy and national security espoused by Paul is one that by political necessity he must adopt right now.
"You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this,” Christie said of at a forum in Aspen, Colo. last week. "I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. … I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in."
With those tough words, Christie kicked off a pitched battle that has since only gotten nastier. And his timing was spot-on when it comes to his own political future.
Christie is giving a 2016 presidential run very close consideration. If he does run, he would face immediate challenges in a Republican primary field that promises to be chock-full of broadsides from more conservative candidates. And if the Republican Party continues drifting any further toward Paul, Christie's path to victory would look even more difficult. So, for the governor, it's best to have this battle now, well in advance of 2016.
(Side note: Christie faces reelection this fall. While he is a huge favorite, he isn't taking anything for granted. And his remarks in Aspen about the need for a robust national security apparatus and his mention of the Sept. 11 attacks are likely to align him with the view of many voters back in New Jersey.)
For Paul, who like Christie is giving 2016 an awfully close look, the reality is this: He's a marked man. Not only is Christie going after him, but hawkish Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is, too. King on Sunday likened Paul to George McGovern, the anti-war, liberal 1972 Democratic presidential nominee.
The fact that Paul now has a large bulls-eye on his back reaffirms the fact that the Kentucky senator is the de facto leader of a movement that is concerned about the perils of government surveillance efforts and wary of too much U.S. government intervention abroad. If you're getting hit in politics, it means you pose a threat and hold some real power. Paul clearly does both.
And the movement he is leading is gaining more steam than ever in GOP circles. Just last week, 94 House Republicans voted for a failed measure that would have restricted how the National Security Agency collects phone records. As recently as a few years ago, it would have been unheard of for such an amendment to win so much Republican support.
In short, Paul is at the forefront of an effort that is gaining more steam than ever in Republican circles.
"I didn’t start this one, and I don’t plan on starting things by criticizing other Republicans,” Paul said Sunday. “But if they want to make me the target, they will get it back in spades."
In other words, don't expect this war of words to fizzle anytime soon. And why would it? After all this is a good fight for Paul. The same is true of Christie.