Bad Blood: Christie’s Feud With Rand Explodes Again

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) finally had a chance to air their grievances face-to-face Thursday night after sniping at each other in the press for two years.

A long-simmering feud between the two Republican presidential candidates, who represent opposite sides of the GOP spectrum on national security and mass government surveillance, boiled over into a shouting match during the Fox News primetime debate. The revealing exchange was prompted by a question from moderator Megyn Kelly, who asked Christie whether it was appropriate to suggest Paul should be blamed for a future terrorist attack because of his opposition to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

“Yes, I do,” Christie responded, noting disingenuously that President George W. Bush appointed him as U.S. attorney the day before the 9/11 attacks. (He was officially nominated in December of that year.)

“When you have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it and we did it for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland,” he added. “I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president that’s exactly what I will do.”

Paul jumped in to defend himself, arguing that he wants to “collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans.”

“That’s a completely ridiculous answer,” Christie said. “I want to collect more records from terrorists but less records from other people. How are you supposed to know?”

“Use the Fourth Amendment!” Paul shouted. “Get a warrant! Get a judge to sign a warrant! Use the Constitution!”

“Senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air about this you can say things like that,” Christie scoffed. “When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure that you use the system the way it’s supposed to work.”

Paul told Christie he was misreading the Bill of Rights. He then went for the knockout: tying the New Jersey governor to President Barack Obama, with whom he famously toured the Jersey Shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“I don’t trust President Obama with our records,” the Kentucky senator said. “I know you gave him a big hug and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”

Christie managed to land his own punch before Kelly cut him off to move on to the next candidate.

“Sen. Paul, you know the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on Sept. 11,” he said. “Those are the hugs I remember and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you’re doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate then putting them on the internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign while still putting our country at risk.”

The exchange apparently still rankled Christie on Friday, when he spoke at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta. He told NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell that he thought Paul “accomplished nothing in office” and explained that he struggled to keep his contempt for Paul under wraps on the debate stage the night before.

So how did we get here? Here’s a recap of the subtle and not-so-subtle insults these two presidential rivals have traded leading up to their on-air verbal brawl.

“Dangerous” libertarianism

The Christie-Paul feud can be traced back to almost exactly two years ago, when the New Jersey governor warned against what he called a “dangerous” strain of libertarianism creeping into the Republican Party during a speech at the Aspen Institute.

Christie didn’t single out Paul right off the bat. But when asked if his criticism applied to the Kentucky senator, Christie responded “you can name any number of people who’ve engaged in it, and he’s one of them.”

Paul’s team swiftly responded by calling Christie “out of touch.”

9/11 pandering

Christie made repeated references to the 9/11 terror attacks and his interactions with the victims in his back-and-forth with Paul during the debate. The Kentucky Republican has accused him of pandering in that respect.

A week after Christie took that thinly-veiled shot at him at the Aspen Institute, Paul told Fox News host Sean Hannity that all Christie’s talk of caring for 9/11 victims was “hogwash.”

“It’s really, I think, kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, ‘Oh, I’m the only one who cares about these victims.’ Hogwash,” he said.

Hurricane Sandy and “the king of bacon”

Paul’s next move was to characterize Christie as a money-grubbing governor who actually undercut national security by requesting federal funds.

“They’re precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now,” Paul said of Christie and Rep. Pete King (R-NY) at a fundraiser. “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”

In response, Christie called Paul a hypocrite on pork barrel spending. The governor argued his state only receives 61 cents back from every dollar it sends to Washington, while Kentucky receives $1.51. That in turn prompted a denial from Paul, who branded Christie “the king of bacon.”

The BridgeGate dig

Months after Christie turned down his suggestion of a friendly beer summit to bury the hatchet, Paul indulged in a little schadenfreude when he was asked about GOP infighting around the same time Christie was battling accusations that his administration closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge and created the traffic jam from hell in order to exact political revenge.

“We’re all one big happy family now. It’s all under the bridge,” Paul told Hannity in a January 2014 interview. “I mean we’re all getting together now–“

“No pun intended?” Hannity asked.

“We’re all getting together now, we’re gonna be a big happy party I think,” Paul said.

The Kentucky senator went on to say in a later interview that the BridgeGate affair hit a nerve with Americans because “people don’t want their officials to use government against them.”

The “bully” charge

Paul swiped at Christie again as the start of the Republican primary season inched closer in November 2014. The Kentucky senator slammed the New Jersey governor’s “bully demeanor” after he told a heckler to “sit down and shut up.”

“I grew up in the south. We’re ‘yes ma’am and no sir,’ a little bit more polite,” Paul said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.” “There was a time when I thought, ‘when he stands up and says things boldly that’s kind of good.’ He’s not taking any flack. But there can be do much of that, too. We live in a world where we have so much cacophony of voices on TV sometimes, of yelling back and forth. I think there’s a resurgence of people who want a little more civility in discourse.”

Another terror attack? Blame Paul

While Paul landed most of the blows in this feud before the Republican primary began in earnest, Christie came out swinging against his old rival this summer. He said it was “disgraceful” for Paul to fundraise off his role in forcing the Patriot Act to expire in June and accused the Kentucky Republican of making the country “weaker” as a result.

“We’re going to look back on this — listen this morning — and he should be in front of hearings in front of Congress if there’s another attack, not the director of the FBI or the director of the CIA,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

TPM illustration by Derick Dirmaier. Photos via AP.

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