Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., condemned the growing "strain of libertarianism" among some Republican politicians on Thursday, saying those engaging in an "esoteric" debate about civil liberties might feel differently if they sat down with those widowed and orphaned by the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"This strain of libertarianism that's going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought," Christie said during a panel discussion with several other Republican governors at the Aspen Institute.
Asked if he was referring specifically to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the Republican perhaps most closely associated with a libertarian platform on defense issues and a potential rival of Christie's in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, the New Jersey Republican replied, "You can name any number of people, and he's one of them."
"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," he added.
"I think what we as a country have to decide is: Do we have amnesia? Because I don't," he said. "And I remember what we felt like on September 12, 2001."
He suggested those stressing the paramount importance of privacy and civil liberties might not seem so principled after "the next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result."
Christie's comments mark the latest salvo in an increasingly heated civil war within the GOP, which has seen its traditionally hawkish posture challenged in recent months by the rise of a libertarian vanguard within Republican ranks, epitomized by Paul along with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, who have warned that recently revealed government surveillance programs sacrifice too much privacy in the name of security.
Christie, Paul, and Cruz are all considered potential Republican contenders for the presidency in 2016, and Christie's decision to throw his lot in with the hawks - and publicly denounce the opposing viewpoint - could represent an early attempt to stake out a robust, strong platform on national security and defense.
And his indictment of libertarianism comes only days after thethat would have severely curtailed the government surveillance programs inaugurated by former President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 and continued by President Obama.
At the forum in Aspen, Colo., Christie praised the lack of daylight between the former president and the current president on surveillance issues. "I think both the way President Bush conducted himself and the way President Obama has conducted himself in the main on those types of decisions hasn't been different, because they were right and because we haven't had another one of those attacks that cost thousands and thousands of lives," he said.
An adviser to Paul, Doug Stafford, rebutted Christie's broadside, telling the New York Times, "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 himself weighed in on Twitter, saying, "Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional."