The escalating public dispute between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has exposed the deep rift that exists between factions of the Republican Party. But these two men have turned their differences into a food fight over "pork" and "bacon."
The dispute began last week when Christie raised concerns about the dangers of libertarianism, espoused by Senator Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency and other national security issues. "I just want us to be really cautious because this strain of libertarianism going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is very dangerous," Christie told a gathering of Republican governors at the Aspen Institute in Colorado.
The always blunt governor then said, "These esoteric intellectual debates, I want them to come to New Jersey and sit in front of the widows and orphans and have that conversation," referring to the people who lost family members in the September 11 terrorist attacks. He concluded, "And they won't, because that's a much tougher conversation to have."
On Sunday, a prickly Senator Paul lashed back, attacking the governor for his federal funding requests following Hurricane Sandy. "They're precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut spending, and their "gimme, gimme, gimme, give me all of my Sandy money now," he told reporters. "Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense."
Gimme, gimme, gimme a break, Mr. Paul! The annual U.S. defense budget is $700 billion, larger than the combined defense budgets of the next dozen countries. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy was the second most destructive storm in U.S. history; it left in its wake 159 dead and an estimated $69 billion in damage. Nonetheless, Mr. Paul tore into the governor on Monday night in an interview with Fox News, "It's really, I think, kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, 'I'm the only one who cares about these victims.'"
Governor Christie, a former prosecutor, responded to Mr. Paul in a press conference Tuesday. "So if Senator Paul wants to start looking at where he's going to cut spending to afford defense, maybe he should start looking at cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky, at $1.51 for every $1.00 and not look at New Jersey, where we get $0.61 for every $1.00," Christie said, referring to the amount of money each state receives for each dollar it pays to the federal government. "So maybe Senator Paul could -- could, you know, deal with that when he's trying to deal with the reduction of spending on the federal side. But I doubt he would, because most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they can get reelected."
On Tuesday evening, Senator Paul struck back at the governor in a CNN interview. "This is the king of bacon talking about bacon," he said. "You know, we have two military bases in Kentucky. And is Governor Christie recommending that we shut down our military bases?" Then he raised the ante. "He's making a big mistake picking a fight with other Republicans, because the Republican Party is shrinking in -- in New England and in the northeast part of our country." He continued, "I'm the one trying to grow the party by talking about liberation ideas of privacy and the Internet. And attacking me isn't helping the party. He's hurting the party."
Paul then puffed, "Why would he want to pick a fight with the one guy who has the chance to grow the party by appealing to the youth and appealing to people who would like to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy."
Governor Christie and Senator Paul are both positioning themselves for the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Party suffered a stinging defeat at the ballot box one year ago that resulted in a self-examination of its core values. But there is a wide chasm between its conservative right and its more centrist members on the future direction of the party.
These differences are reflected in the public spat between Mr. Christie and Mr. Paul. With three more years remaining before the election, Democrats, who will likely nominate Hillary Clinton as their standard-bearer, are certainly enjoying the show.