Paul needled him last night on Hannity’s show for taking a “gimme, gimme, gimme” attitude towards federal spending on Sandy relief. Here’s Christie needling him back by accusing Paul and his home state of Kentucky of being a couple of deadbeats:

“I find it interesting that Sen. Paul is accusing us of having a ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ attitude towards federal spending when in fact New Jersey is a donor state and we get 61 cents back on every dollar we send to Washington,” Christie said. “And interestingly, Kentucky gets $1.51 on every dollar they send to Washington. So if Sen. Paul wants to start looking at where he’s going to cut spending to afford defense, maybe he should start cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky…”

David Frum made a similar point this morning before Christie spoke. If you look at this Economist chart of federal spending and revenue per state from 1990 to 2009, New Jersey was the third biggest net exporter of tax dollars while Kentucky was the 13th biggest net importer. Christie, who accepted a temporary (but not permanent) expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare, ain’t the guy to be attacking Paul on spending, but that’s the point here: He’s trying to inoculate himself from the damaging big-spender charge in the 2016 primaries by arguing that even libertarians like their tax money. The kicker is his dismissal of Paul as a “Washington politician,” which is … not the way most people think of Rand. But that’s strategic too. The rap on Christie two years from now will be that he’s the champion of the Republican establishment (which is true). This is him trying to muddy those perceptions by arguing that even the famously anti-establishment tea-party senator is really just a big ol’ Beltway parasite at heart.

Anyway, the takeaway is that both of these men must run for president. We want these debates. We need these debates. In fact, one X factor with Christie is whether his willingness to throw punches at grassroots heroes will end up helping him or hurting him with the centrists he’s targeting in the primaries. I agree with Dan McLaughlin that the real winners in this brawl are Rubio, Cruz, and Walker because space is being cleared in the center-right between Christie and Paul for one (or more) of them, but who knows? (Here’s a smart counter-take.) An “angry RINO” charging at rivals on the right would be a novel thing for a GOP primary; normally the RINO is a hapless figure like Romney who tolerates being dumped on by grassroots righties because he knows he needs conservatives in the general election and doesn’t want to alienate them by firing back. Christie might figure that he’ll do well enough with centrist Democrats as nominee that he can afford to lose a few stalwart conservatives. I think he’s wrong about that, if so, but either way, these primaries will be dynamite.