Choosing a side in his party’s ideological battle, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attacked libertarian ideas on national security exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul, a possible rival in the 2016 presidential primary.
“I just want us to be really cautious of this strain of libertarianism that is going through both parties right now and making big headlines,” Christie told a Republican governors’ roundtable Thursday in Aspen. “I think it is a very dangerous thought.”
The comments gave an early glimpse of how Christie might position himself in what’s likely to be a crowded Republican primary in three years. The governor, who is enjoying high approval ratings from his response to Hurricane Sandy as he seeks a second term, has drawn criticism for praising President Barack Obama after the storm and scolding party members in Congress for aid delays.
“Sometimes there’s a mixture between the governor’s politics and his gut reaction,” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University Polling Institute. “In that response you saw both.”
Christie’s comments come as lawmakers in Washington from both parties champion civil liberties and privacy in a debate over anti-terrorism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy promoting little or no government involvement in people’s lives.
Asked if he was referring to Paul, Christie said, “You can name any number of people who engage in” the libertarian debates, “and he’s one of them.”
Paul (R-Ky.) responded, “Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”
Christie, on stage in Aspen with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, denounced what he called “esoteric debates” about national security.
“We as a country need to decide, do we have amnesia?” he said.
Charlie Cook, founder of the Cook Political Report, said it was “extremely cynical” to believe that Christie’s words were driven purely by political ambition.
“There is no doubt in my mind that as a tough former U.S. attorney, particularly one becoming a prosecutor in New Jersey immediately after 9/11, Christie strongly believes what he says and sees this as a dangerous turn on the part of many in his party,” Cook said in an email. “At the same time, it’s not necessarily bad politics, either.”