Rand Paul hits Chris Christie for criticizing NRA ad, grandstanding on Sandy relief bill

I’m intrigued and oddly impressed at how obviously Paul’s maneuvering for 2016. First the trip to Israel, then the bill to nullify any executive actions taken by Obama on guns, now this double-barreled shot at grassroots conservatives’ new bete noire. One of the things about the elder Paul that some people loved and others found off-putting was that he never seemed terribly interested in ingratiating himself with mainstream conservatives. If you’re a fan, maybe you took that as proof of principle, that he was above gladhanding political nonsense towards people foolish enough not to embrace libertarianism wholeheartedly. If you aren’t, you took it as evidence that he disdained the rank-and-file Republicans whose votes he’d need to win and wasn’t willing to bend towards some of their concerns. It’s an open question how similar Ron and Rand are on policy, but from a pure retail standpoint, Rand seems way more willing to play to the wider GOP base. The clearest example to date was him endorsing Romney last year while Ron predictably refused. But dumping on a guy who’s irritated everyone to the right of “Morning Joe” lately is another small yet effective way to do it:

Paul claimed that Christie had “backed down” on gun rights: “You have some Republicans backing down like Christie backing down and criticizing the NRA, and I think that doesn’t do any good.”

When asked by Ingraham why Christie made the comments, he responded that they were politically calculated. “I think he may be solidifying his support with Democrats in New Jersey and maybe liberal Republicans.”

Paul warned Christie that his criticism of the NRA, as well as his criticism of fellow Republicans over the Sandy relief bill, would come back to haunt him if he made a presidential run in 2016. “I think criticizing the Second Amendment movement and the over-the-top ‘give me my money’ stuff, ‘I want all sixty billion now or I’ll throw a tantrum,’ I don’t think that’s going to play well in the Republican primary.”

“I think people need to think through what their position on these things are.” Paul concluded.

The field will be more crowded, with many heavier hitters, in 2016 than it was in 2012, but I’d bet cash money that Rand will do better than Ron did, especially if Obama continues to fiddle on entitlements. The more dire the fiscal situation gets, the more appealing a harder line libertarian appears vis-a-vis a more traditional conservative Republican pol.

As for Christie, between the post-Sandy Obama photo op, the grandstanding on Sandy relief, and now dumping on the NRA while saying nothing about Obama’s own bit of child exploitation, WaPo’s wondering if he’s already finished for 2016. I doubt it. To repeat a point made recently, the lesson of nominating McCain and Romney is that the national Republican primary electorate is way bigger than the universe of grassroots conservatives. Christie could lose every last tea-party vote and conceivably still squeak through to some sort of Romney-esque victory over a divided conservative field. (Then again, if it were that easy, why didn’t Giuliani win in 2008?) But I still think he’d be better off hooking up with Bloomberg and running a serious third-party campaign. For better or worse, after all the betrayals of conservatives lately, that’s his brand now. If he had a few hundred million from Bloomy to jump-start him and some serious media buzz about being the first credible independent candidate since Perot, who knows what he could do? Republicans’ popularity is at a recent historic low in some polls and Christie’s popularity is sky high. If he ends up with the right opponents — Cuomo, say, if Hillary doesn’t run and maybe Rand Paul on the right — it’s not impossible to imagine him contending seriously. Think of it: The first “No Labels” president. What could go wrong?

Via Newsbusters, here’s Andrea Mitchell marveling at the fact that, notwithstanding Christie’s blue-state pander about their “reprehensible” ad, the NRA is a reasonably popular organization.