Mathematically, the odds are against either New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Kentucky Senator Rand Paul becoming president of the United States. Of all the millions of eligible Americans throughout history, including many thousands of successful politicians, the number of individuals who have achieved the alchemy of talent, timing, and luck to attain that high office is a mere 43 (counting Grover Cleveland twice).
Even among the dozen or so preferiti who get talked up on a quadrennial basis, there can be only one.
And while it seems plausible that one or both of Christie and Paul will run for president in 2016, their prospects for success are less significant than the philosophy each man represents.
As the recent, well-publicized squabble between them demonstrates, while these two men share a party, they embody vastly divergent views of America. Christie sounds much like a robust Republican of the recent past, prioritizing security and strength in the face of foreign enmity; Paul, meanwhile, avers that many of the direst threats facing the nation are domestic in nature, including and especially the power and intrusiveness of our federal government.
In short, they have very different ways of defining danger, and defending freedom.
The shorthand has been that Christie represents the Republican “establishment,” while Paul champions its “libertarian” or, if you like, “Tea Party” faction (though the latter moniker carries considerable additional baggage).
In modern parlance, you will find defenses of Christie in the columns of major publications, whereas Paul’s supporters can be read in the “comments” section.
The recent brouhaha was touched off by comments Christie made at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, in which he called Paul’s brand of libertarianism a “dangerous thought,” termed his objections to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs “esoteric,” and dared NSA critics to present their case to the “widows and orphans” of 9/11.
Paul responded by offering Christie a dictionary, since a program that monitors every person in America is something other than “esoteric.” From there, the spate descended into unbecoming silliness about bacon and who has time for a beer with whom, but their initial disagreement represents a crucial question for their party, and for America. To wit, have we sacrificed too much freedom in the name of security?
This is a discussion that Republicans, and the country, must have.
Many will say that Republicans did not object to the security state when it was being constructed by President George W. Bush, and that’s fair enough. But as government surveillance expands and the militarization of American life increases in the second term of a Democratic president, perhaps we can shoulder bipartisan responsibility and ask: What would we like to do next?