Christie: Hey, I don't have time to have a beer with Rand Paul right now

I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t a guy running for reelection in a deeply Democratic state want a photo op with one of the GOP’s most right-wing members?

This ain’t over:

“I’m running for re-election in New Jersey. I don’t really have time for that at the moment,” Christie said. “If I find myself in Washington, I’ll certainly look him up, but I don’t suspect I’ll be there anytime soon.”…

“I don’t know why Senator Paul is so out of whack about this,” Christie said tonight. “At the end of the day I never called him any names, yet he called me names. I didn’t use any childish type phrases like gimme, gimme, gimme, he did. I just have to assume from that that he’s just trying to get attention. That’s fine. He’s not the first politician who’s used me to try to get attention in the national media and I’m sure he won’t be the last.”

Always ready to mix it up, Christie has labeled his detractors all sort of colorful names. Last night, he said he’s “not offended by Senator Paul calling me names.”

“I think it’s juvenile, but I’m not offended by it,” he said.

He never called Paul any names, but he did call his philosophy “very dangerous” and an affront to the victims of 9/11. Would you rather have that be said about you or be called the “king of bacon”?

I understand why Christie isn’t ready for this feud to end. I don’t understand why Paul is. There are few ways these days to endear yourself to grassroots conservatives more effectively than by picking a fight with the guy they regard as King RINO. (Actually, McCain’s King RINO, but Rand’s already squabbled with him. And Christie’s a prince at least.) Maybe he’s worried that an early attack from a prominent rival on his national-security cred will damage him by shaping voters’ perceptions before Paul’s had a chance to define himself. Seems more likely, though, that Christie’s damaging himself by defining his own image as ardently, intractably anti-libertarian, which ain’t a smart move given the base’s drift towards Paul’s position on NSA surveillance. Other party-watchers appear to agree:

In early-state New Hampshire, the conservative editorial page of the influential Union Leader newspaper mocked Christie’s dismissive view of the surveillance debate, writing that “the entirety of Christie’s argument” was “9/11!”…

“This strikes me as one of his gut-reaction, classic Chris Christie moments. ‘Oh yeah? Well, you don’t talk that way in New Jersey, buddy, because in New Jersey we see it this way.’ And that’s great if you’re governor of New Jersey and you’re going to stay governor of New Jersey,” [Union Leader editorial editor Drew] Cline said. “But this is a guy who apparently aspires to the highest office in the land. To come across as being unfamiliar with the very concept that the Constitution protects citizens from having their rights trampled on by the state is not going to play well nationally in a Republican primary.”

New Hampshire-based strategist David Carney, a senior adviser to Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, said it was easy to call the winner of this bout: “Round one: Rand.”

“There is a real libertarian bent to the GOP and many other voting groups – not in the Ron Paul class, but being fed up with big government in general. Real Republicans and most Americans are willing to discuss the role of America in the world and for limits or at least adjustments,” Carney said.

You can win the 2016 nomination running as someone who’s less libertarian than Paul. (In fact, the eventual nominee almost certainly will be.) I don’t know if you can win it running as someone who’s contemptuous of libertarianism as a “very dangerous thought.” Like I’ve said before, that’s not just a philosophical difference, it’s an electability issue: The nominee will need some Paul sympathizers to hold their noses and vote for him against the Democrat. Hardcore libertarians will stay home if Paul doesn’t win the nomination, but not all people who agree with key parts of Paul’s platform are hardcore. They’re gettable in theory — provided you don’t imply that they’re nuts for worrying about the direction of the surveillance state. This is why I think Rubio/Walker/Ryan are the real winners in all this ultimately. They’ll be more hawkish than Paul but way, way less antagonistic towards his supporters than Christie is. They can play him and Christie off each other as both being too extreme in their respective ways.

Exit question: In the Politico piece excerpted, they suggest that Paul’s happy to have this fight because he “knows he must clear the commander-in-chief test.” How does this help him do that? The knock on libertarians isn’t that they’re afraid to stand up to their political enemies; on the contrary, judging from the commentary I read online, there’s nothing that makes them happier than brawling with big-government Republicans. To credit Paul for showing nerve in taking on Christie (especially when he knows that most of the base is on his side) is like crediting Ron Paul with nerve for dumping on Ben Bernanke. That’s … what libertarians do. The fear among hawks isn’t that Paul is too much of a “wimp” or whatever to use U.S. military assets when necessary. It’s that, because of his foreign policy views, he’ll reflexively deem it unnecessary in every circumstance, whether the facts support that view or not. I’m sure Rand would say (and probably has said) that he would have ordered the raid on Bin Laden’s compound too. Would he have, though? Is a serious breach of Pakistan’s national sovereignty involving U.S. boots on the ground something you’d expect a libertarian pol to embrace? The answer isn’t a function of cowardice or “wimpiness,” it’s a function of ideology. He’s not a wimp, he’s a Paul. That’s what GOP voters who are otherwise well disposed to him will wrestle with in two years.