Alternate headline: “GOP primary campaign officially under way.” New Jersey got $60 billion of federal funds for Sandy relief, $25 million of which went to a “Stronger than the Storm” tourism campaign that showcased a certain gubernatorial candidate and his family. Here’s Rand Paul celebrating that candidate’s victory last night by basically accusing him of corruption. Not the first time he’s smacked Christie over Sandy funding, either: That’s what prompted the “king of bacon” comment back in July when the two of them first started throwing punches at each other. The outline of his strategy against Christie in 2016 is already fairly clear. He’s going to knock him not only as a big spender who cares more about buying off constituents with federal money than he does about shrinking government but as someone who’s ethically dubious across the board. That was one of the red flags for Team Romney when they vetted Christie for VP last year, in fact:
The vetters were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record. There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official—and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.” (Todd also oversaw a family foundation whose activities and purpose raised eyebrows among the vetters.) And all that was on top of a litany of glaring matters that sparked concern on Myers’ team: Christie’s other lobbying clients, his investments overseas, the YouTube clips that helped make him a star but might call into doubt his presidential temperament, and the status of his health.
Why Paul is more focused on tearing down the guy to his left rather than the guy to his right is unclear to me — pure personal pique, maybe — but attacking Christie on Sandy follows (ironically) the Karl Rove playbook in hitting an opponent on his strongest point rather than his weakest one. It’s a bit like Biden’s famous line in the 2007 primaries that every sentence uttered by Rudy Giuliani consists of a noun, a verb, and “9/11.” Christie’s team will be selling his Sandy management to GOP voters in 2015 as an almost mystically heroic act of leadership; Paul’s going to counter by framing it as a sort of taxpayer-funded gravy train for Christie’s reelection effort. If he can make Christie’s big credential look tawdry, it’ll help puncture whatever mystique Christie carries with him into 2016.
Paul wasn’t the only tea partier who needled him today either. After jabbing at Ted Cruz yesterday, here’s what Christie got back. Exit quotation:
Cruz offered tepid praise for Christie, who cruised to a second term Tuesday night, but suggested that conservatives are craving a leader who will not back down or compromise.
“I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race,” Cruz told ABC News in the Capitol today. “But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle. And in particular, Obamacare is not working.”
Asked whether Christie is a true conservative, Cruz walked away.