On Sunday the media continued to promote the idea of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as dueling frontrunners for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Writing in The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza asserted that the two men present starkly different paths for the GOP heading into the next presidential election cycle.
Cillizza even goes as far as to suggest that there are already neatly divided camps of “Chris Christie Republicans” and “Rand Paul Republicans.”
The political cage match of Christie vs. Paul has been a recent hype by the press, stemming largely from back and forth remarks the two have made regarding revelations that the National Security Administration has repeatedly violated constitutional rights with its domestic phone and internet surveillance techniques.
While Paul has criticized the NSA’s data collection techniques as an affront to the civil liberties and privacy afforded all American citizens, Christie has taken a more neoconservative approach to the situation. The governor publicly dismissed the notion of putting such “academic” constitutional debates ahead of national security concerns. He also warned of a dangerous “libertarian strain” (i.e. people like Paul) making its way through the ranks of both major political parties.
Christie even insinuated that Paul and his opinions were insensitive to the victims of 9/11, apparently taking at face value the NSA's claims that its domestic intelligence methods have prevented numerous terror attacks since 2001.
The Paul vs. Christie feud on national security/foreign policy gained increased traction as self-appointed conservative watchdogs like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin offered opinions.
Talking to the Washington Times recently, the former House Speaker seemed to praise the sorts of debates on American foreign policy that Rand Paul instigates.
“I am a neoconservative,” Gingrich said. “But at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded.
“I like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because they are talking about this.”
When Sarah Palin was asked on Fox News to pick a side in the Paul/Christie fued, she proclaimed she was firmly on “Team Rand” and said that the senator possesses “that healthy libertarian streak that we need more of in our politicians.”
With his piece on Sunday, Cillizza tries to sharpen a line in the GOP between Christie, whom he deems “establishment” and Paul, whom he deems “outsider.” However, it might be more accurate to simply say that Christie has been cozy inside of the Republican establishment for a longer period of time than Paul.
It is becoming increasingly hard to view Rand Paul as any sort of GOP outsider. The sheer volume of his conservative media appearances and the political company he keeps belie such a label.
While Paul speaks of non-interventionist foreign policy, he was very quick to endorse 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Romney stated on numerous occasions that he was ready to do anything, including taking preemptive military action, to prevent Iran from having a single nuclear weapon.
And while Paul endorses military spending cuts as part of a larger platform of fiscal responsibility and reduced American military aggression, he has endorsed fellow Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, a good friend to the defense contracting industry.
According to a report from TPMMuckraker, for fiscal year 2010 McConnell requested earmarks worth $17 million for BAE Systems, the world’s second largest defense contractor, which is headquartered in Britain and owns a facility in Louisville.
Additionally, McConnell has received campaign contributions from a BAE Systems political action committee, and United Defense Industries - a defense contractor owned by BAE - pledged $500,000 to the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.
It may be the case that Paul's loyalty to Republican establishments like McConnell is exactly what has propelled him to the shortlist of 2016 presidential mentions.
Christie, likewise, is no stranger to benefiting from the favor of GOP power players.
Despite his lack of criminal law experience, Christie was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey by the George W. Bush administration in 2001. Christie was a top fundraiser for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
Since his time as a district attorney, Christie has maintained tight Republican ties that ultimately assisted his rise to New Jersey Governor. In 2007, then District Attorney Christie recommended that the Ashcroft Group (a consulting firm owned by former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft) be awarded a no-bid contract worth more than $25 million to monitor a court settlement against an Indiana medical supplies company.
Now, despite taking some criticism from conservative talk radio for his cooperation with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie is still a favorite among Republicans to weigh in for the 2016 presidential campaign.
At a Republican National Committee event in Boston, Christie has recently stated that he will do "whatever it takes" to defeat Democratic challenges to his re-election this year.
"For our (Republican's) ideas to matter, we have to win," he said. "Because if we don't win we don't govern."
Rand Paul seems to share that sentiment.
While Paul is often applauded by civil liberty advocates for his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's nomination as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, that effort seemed to be more about posturing against President Obama than advocating against the use of drone warfare. (Even Mitch McConnell joined Paul on the Senate floor to show a token of support that evening.)
Chris Christie and Rand Paul may speak different dialects of the GOP language, but at day's end, both men seem to be ultimately concerned with a Republican victory in 2016. And ultimately, both men will have to continue to please the party establishment for the opportunity to put their names next to any such victory.