I’m not sure what Chris Christie’s motivation was for going after Rand Paul and libertarians, unless it was just more Christie shoot-from-the-lip bluster to score political points with the New York Times, but on balance I think the brewing feud between the two wings of the GOP heading into the 2016 election season is a very good thing. Bring it on.
In one corner, the larger-than-life governor of New Jersey, who might have been a front-runner for the nomination until his very public embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy. Christie did the right thing, of course — his state was among the hardest hit by the superstorm, and a visit by the president of the United States, any president, could only be a good thing. Still, the chumminess at a time when conservatives were desperately holding their noses and about to pull the lever for Mitt “severely conservative” Romney seemed over the top, and the pugnacious pol never recovered his former status as a heart-throb of the Right.
In the other, the son of perennially quixotic libertarian candidate Ron Paul, less wacky than his dad and something of a hero after his filibuster against the drone-strike program. Rand is a much cannier mainstream politician than his father ever was, and not only is positioning himself for the 2016 nomination fight, but is collecting vouchers in advance via the 2014 congressional elections.
It’s a great fight to have, and it’s a great fight to have right now. With Obama reeling from an assortment of “phony” scandals that somehow include multiple dead Americans (Benghazi, Fast and Furious) and with him now standing revealed (via the IRS targeting of conservatives) as every bit as partisan and unprincipled as conservatives suspected, this is paradoxically not the time for the GOP to rally ’round a candidate or wing of the party in the hopes of presenting a united front for 2016. Rather, it’s the time to air out the differences between the Establishment GOP (eastern in orientation, with branches in Texas and Arizona) and the populist upstarts who have just about had it with Washington, with reaching across the aisle, with sucking up to the mainstream media, and most of all with the implicit defeatism of a party that time and again nominates candidates sure to lose (Dole, McCain, Romney) against Democrats who could not otherwise win (Clinton, Obama).
Oddly, the MSM’s ironclad support for Obama helps the Establishment GOP, by norming the Bush-Obama domestic spying programs, the drone strikes and the other trappings of the Big Brother state. In effect there are now two parties: the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party, embodied by Obama and McCain (and what does that tell you about the 2008 election?) and the Other America party, which still believes in old-fashioned things like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as reactionary and unenlightened as those things may be.
The support for potential candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — and the rapid fading of support for people like Christie and Marco Rubio, who badly blotted his copybook with his inexplicable “comprehensive immigration reform” advocacy when that is just about the last thing on the minds of the American people — indicates a hunger for the fight. Conservatives understand that they have two opponents in the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton (or whoever comes out of left field to rob her of the nomination this time) and, far tougher, the McCain/Graham/Rove wing of the Republican party. Until that wing is soundly defeated and its accommodationist principles refuted and discredited, conservatives have exactly zero chance of engaging with the Democrats the way the want to: unapologetically and unafraid.