Food Fight: GOP Heavies Go To Blows Over Bacon, Beer And Domestic Surveillance

With two Republican presidential contenders already sniping at each other in the summer of 2013, residents of Iowa may want to brace themselves for January 2016.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) have spent the past week trading verbal blows that began ideological and eventually turned personal. Things have gotten so icy between them that one has refused to even get a beer with the other.

So, how exactly did this begin? Let’s recap.

Christie Channels His Inner Hawk

Still trying to ingratiate himself with the right after his public embrace of President Barack Obama following Hurricane Sandy, Christie may have found an opening on the national security front. In remarks a week ago at the Aspen Institute, Christie decried a “strain of libertarianism” that he said was permeating the two major parties, calling it “dangerous” and “esoteric.”

Asked by a moderator if he was talking about Paul, Christie replied: “You can name any number of people who’ve engaged in it, and he’s one of them.”

Paul has expressed misgivings with U.S. drone policy and domestic surveillance programs. In March, the Kentucky Republican led a marathon filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, demanding to know if the administration would order a drone strike within America’s borders.

Paul To Christie: You’re Out Of Touch

Paul’s response to Christie came quickly. A day after the swipe, an adviser to Paul said the senator’s views on government power were closer to the mainstream than Christie’s.

“If Governor Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is ‘esoteric,’ he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years,” Paul adviser Doug Stafford told the Washington Times the day after Christie’s comments.

‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’

Two days later, Paul added to his adviser’s rebuttal, needling Christie for seeking federal funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Earlier this year, the New Jersey governor forcefully took on members of his own party, namely House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), when Sandy relief aid was delayed due to GOP opposition.

“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 on Sunday. “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”

Paul Calls Out Christie For Playing The 9/11 Card

Paul persisted with his criticism of Christie during an interview Monday night with conservative pundit Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel. He reiterated his disapproval of the Sandy aid and accused the governor of exploiting the victims of 9/11 in their debate.

“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,” Paul said. He also told Hannity that it’s “not very smart” of Christie to pick fights with fellow Republicans.

You Talkin’ About My State?

Paul’s jab over Sandy relief summoned Christie’s famously pugnacious attitude. Christie called out the senator for all the “pork barrel spending” he brings home to Kentucky. New Jersey is a so-called “donor state,” Christie reminded reporters, bringing back less than a dollar for every buck it sends to Washington. Kentucky, meanwhile, receives more than $1.50 in return.

“Maybe he should start cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky,” Christie told reporters on Tuesday. “But I doubt he will because most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they can get re-elected.”

Paul Doubles The ‘Bacon’

Paul couldn’t resist throwing Christie’s “bacon” line back at him that same day, dubbing the New Jersey governor “the king of bacon” for government spending.

“This is the king of bacon talking about bacon,” Paul said Tuesday on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

Paul: Hey, I Didn’t Start It

By Wednesday morning, Paul was calling for détente in his feud with Christie — but not before insisting that he wasn’t the one who started it. But Paul said he was ready to stand down, so long as the governor was too.

“I didn’t pick this recent fight with the governor down in New Jersey,” Paul said on the radio program “New Hampshire Today.” “But I think the party does better if we have less infighting, so I would suggest if he wants to ratchet it down, I’m more than happy to.”

Forget Bacon, How About A Beer?

Later on Wednesday, Paul went even further in trying to defuse the tension with Christie, saying that the quarrel had “gotten a little too personal” while extending an invitation to the popular governor for a beer on Capitol Hill.

“If we can sit down, I’m inviting him for a beer,” Paul said during an interview on Fox News. “Anytime he would like to come down and sit down at the pub right around the corner from the Senate. We’ll have a beer.”

Christie: Thanks, But No Thanks

Hopes for a beer summit were quickly dashed on Wednesday when Christie declined Paul’s invitation, saying he doesn’t expect to be in Washington any time soon. The governor also insisted that his initial criticism of libertarianism — the remark that set the high-profile spat in motion — wasn’t even about Paul. Christie said he didn’t even mention the senator’s name, but was just responding to a question from a moderator who referred to Paul.

“It really had nothing to do with Senator Paul, but Senator Paul wanted to make it about Senator Paul so that’s fine,” Christie said during his monthly radio show.

Photos by AP, composite by TPM’s Nick R. Martin

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