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Editorial: Christie, Paul fight is worth watching

If you happened to tune into the New Hampshire Today radio show on WGIR radio Wednesday, you would have heard U.S. Sen. Rand Paul offering something like an olive branch to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“I didn’t pick this recent fight with the governor down in New Jersey,” Paul said. “I think the party does better if we have less infighting. I’d suggest that if he wants to ratchet it down, I’d be more than happy to.”

Well, less sniping is easy to endorse. But put aside the personal pettiness, and the argument over personal privacy and national security between Rand and Christie – which played out on cable television and the internet this week – is profoundly important, for the Republican Party and for the country.

To back up: Christie and Paul are both potential Republican candidates for president in 2016, men we’ll no doubt be seeing a lot of in New Hampshire over the next few years.

Paul, the son of 2012 candidate Ron Paul, has emerged as one of the leading critics of U.S. foreign policy. Last spring he staged a dramatic filibuster to protest the use of drone strikes. And earlier this summer he sponsored a bill to curb the National Security Agency’s ability to search phone records. “The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive’s expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party,” he said in introducing the legislation.

Paul summed up his philosophy on WGIR like this: “I’ve been trying to help the national party to grow bigger, bringing new people into it. I’ve been up to New Hampshire and talked about people coming into the party. . . . I’m the kind of candidate . . . who says, young people, Republicans, we will protect your privacy. We do care about the internet. We do want to promote a less aggressive foreign policy.”

Christie, meanwhile, has become a spokesman for a much more Establishment view of the world. At a Republican Governors Association panel discussion last week, he had harsh words for libertarian-leaning members of his party and what he considers their “esoteric” views on national security. Those who criticize the NSA’s domestic spying, he said, inhibit the government’s ability to keep Americans safe.

“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said.

Asked if he was referring to Paul, Christie replied: “You can name any number of people, and he’s one of them. I mean, these esoteric, intellectual debates – I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”

That, in a nutshell, is the among the most profound issues facing this country: How much personal privacy are we willing to sacrifice in the name of safety? How much secrecy do we allow the government about the programs it conducts in our name (and on our dime) in the name of national security? And, politically speaking, which world view will Republican Party voters ultimately sign up for?

Christie and Paul clearly get under each other’s skin, but they are, in fact, terrific spokesmen for two sides of a critical debate. They are popular precisely because they don’t seem like most politicians – they are blunt-spoken and willing to do or say controversial things.

Substantive debate is often hard to come by in Washington and especially during election campaigns. But if the Christie-Rand show makes it to New Hampshire sometime soon, potential Republican primary voters should make a point of tuning in. This one is important.

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