A public spat between two top potential Republican presidential candidates represents an on-going rift in the party that may rip open ahead of the 2016 election.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has earned conservative hero status for his YouTube documented takedowns of public employees, eschewed the libertarian national security worldview – most recently popularized by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during a panel at the Aspen Institute on Thursday.
"As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought," said Christie, according to news reports.
Paul, who has been critical of the U.S. secret surveillance programs made public by accused federal leaker Edward Snowden, responded to Christie via Twitter.
"Christie worries about the dangers of freedom," wrote Paul. "I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional."
Christie, whose state was savaged by Hurricane Sandy about a month before the 2012 presidential election and who joined with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to lobby Congress for emergency funding to help with recovery efforts, said reality sometimes gets in the way of philosophical arguments.
"You can name any one of them that's engaged in this," he said, referring to fellow Republicans pushing the hands-off, you're on your own philosophy on the role of government. "I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. I'm very nervous about the direction this is moving in."
Paul doubled down on his critique of Christie following a Nashville fundraising event over the weekend.
"They're precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their `Gimme, gimme, gimme, give me all my Sandy money now,'" Paul said, according to The Associated Press. "Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense. If they want to make me the target, they will get it back in spades."
Republicans coalesced around an intervention heavy foreign policy position during George W. Bush's presidency and embraced a heavy-handed approach to unwarranted surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism law passed following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But a growing wing of the GOP has sought a more isolationist approach since the 2009 recession and prioritized budget cuts, even to the Defense Department, in the push for shrinking the federal government. Concerns about Big Brother and government collection of private data have also been a large part of the tea party movement.
Paul, whose father former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has long espoused a libertarian approach to foreign policy, is the leading voice for his increasingly popular cause, whereas Christie represents a more traditional Republican approach. The two men poll near the top of the list of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. A polling average by RealClearPolitics.com shows Christie leading the field with 15.8 percent of the vote and the younger Paul in third place with 12.3 percent of the vote.