Christie takes veiled shots at Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal at RNC luncheon; Update: Team Paul fires back

Say this for the guy: He knows what his audience wants to hear.

I guess this is going to be his approach, whether or not it alienates righty votes he’ll need in the general election. Being “brash” and confrontational got him two terms as governor in a blue state. Why not let it all hang out and see if it can’t get him the White House too? Besides, with the rest of the field busy distancing themselves from Romney, there are a lot of forlorn, wealthy establishmentarians out there in need of a champion. Here he comes now:

“Christie and Paul tangled earlier this summer after the New Jersey governor criticized Paul’s libertarian-tinged worldview as “esoteric” and “intellectual,” drawing a series of pointed rebukes from Paul and his allies…

“I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors,” he said. “Now college professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”…

Christie also appeared to rap Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another potential White House hopeful who made headlines in January when he implored the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.”

“I’m not going to be one of these people who goes around and calls our party stupid,” Christie said, a startling remark given that Jindal and Christie work hand-in-hand as chairman and vice-chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

“We need to stop navel gazing. There’s nothing wrong with our principles. We need to focus on winning again. There’s too much at stake for this to be an academic exercise. We need to win and govern with authority and courage.”

The fact that he’s picking an early fight with Jindal, someone with whom he’s had no issues but who’s a potential rival in 2016, is the best evidence yet that he really is running. “It was impressive. I forgot about the Obama bear hug,” the chairman of the Tennessee GOP told CNN afterward. And that’s the idea — if your would-be base is worried/annoyed at you for buddying up to The One, one way to win them back is to throw punches at someone else they don’t like. Ironically, he’s executing a sort of RINO version of the strategy some tea-party pols use to ingratiate themselves with supporters: He’s picking a fight with someone who’s unpopular with his constituents, it’s just that instead of Obama, the targets in this case are … fellow Republicans. No wonder Beltway GOPers love him. Maybe WaPo’s idea of Christie “standing up” to Palin in order to dazzle centrists is likelier than I thought.

I don’t get his criticisms of Paul and Jindal, though. In terms of the latter, as Philip Klein pointed out on Twitter, Christie’s said worse things about Republican leaders than calling them “stupid.” And Jindal wasn’t calling the party stupid because he thinks its principles are stupid; he said specifically that the party should retain its “values” but that it needs to stop showcasing people prone to crankish remarks and reach middle America with growth policies rather than obsessing about the deficit. I’m surprised Christie disagrees with any of that. Although, maybe he doesn’t. The point here was to take a rival down a peg, not seriously engage his ideas.

As for Paul, the so-called “college professor,” I assume that’s a reference to his filibuster over the unlikely prospect of the feds droning a U.S. citizen on American soil. That’s fine, but that’s long since been overtaken by the debate over NSA surveillance. Does Christie consider that topic fanciful or “esoteric,” even after his pal Barack has conceded that reforms are necessary? Or is he, rather, jabbing at Paul for pushing libertarian legislative initiatives like defunding O-Care or cutting foreign aid that invariably fail? That makes more sense insofar as it’s a contrast with Christie’s own brand of working with Democrats to “get things done.” That’ll be one of the under-the-radar issues of the 2016 primaries, amid all the noise about surveillance and immigration: Does the party want to nominate someone who’s campaigning explicitly on bipartisanship or someone willing to filibuster, for 13 hours straight if need be, to extract concessions from the other side? Christie’s carving out his turf early.

Exit quotation from Rand Paul: “I think that the Republican party is big enough for the both of us.” Is it?

Update: Counterpunch.

“So if I translate Gov. Christie correctly, we shouldn’t be the party of ideas,” Paul adviser Doug Stafford told CNN in an email. “We shouldn’t care what we stand for or even if we stand for anything. We reject that idea. Content-free so-called ‘pragmatism’ is the problem, not the solution.”

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