At a Republican Governors Association event tonight, Chris Christie identified a new target in his neverending branding campaign to be Brow-Beater-in-Chief, but this time on his own side - libertarians.
The governor labeled a "dangerous thought" the libertarianism making headlines on national security, most recently the Justin Amash and John Conyers effort to defund the National Security Agency over its flagrant 4th Amendment violations. He even morbidly used the "widows and the orphans" of 9/11 to buttress his police-statist policy preference, barely losing out in the dance macabre competition to President Obama and Senator Diane Feinstein's recent corpse parade for gun control.
Christie's friendly fire operation is dumb, short-sighted, and just plain wrong for several reasons.
It is a hypothesis, not a conclusion, that a universal surveillance state has prevented "another one of those attacks that cost thousands and thousands of lives", as Christie put it. It is true that we have not had another attack on that scale, but we hadn't had one in the entirety of our nation's history before that either (Pearl Harbor doesn't count, internal vs external surveillance). If an all-inclusive citizen monitoring program (that didn't start until 2001) is all that has prevented a massive terrorist attack since 9/11, what prevented one before we had that? And to go even further, the surveillance state's efficacy in preventing another 9/11 isn't even certain, since we now know that the NSA began its data-mining several months before 9/11. If it didn't stop 9/11, how can you be so certain that it has stopped another one?
Christie also misfires in the political calculus here (though he will of course claim that he had none). While libertarians share some individual views from both the right and left side of the political spectrum, they align almost exclusively with the right overall. Christie is going the opposite way - toward the middle. He actively cleaves and both left and right "extremes" and carves out a path straight up the middle of the aisle. It has worked in Republican primaries before (McCain, Romney, Dole), but almost never in the general election. A lot of the post-2012 Republican calculus has focused on the disaffected blue-collar white voters who didn't show up in the polls. While Christie's straight-talk persona might attract these voters back, he'll keep libertarians either voting third party or staying home instead. That's a risky trade-off, especially if the ever-popular Hillary Clinton is his opponent. Even outside of specific voting blocs, the population in general is becoming more dovish on national security. Christie should move ahead of the public on these issues, not lagging behind.
Many pundits saw Christie's assault tonight as an early salvo in the 2016 GOP primary. As Allahpundit pointed out, Rand Paul, one of his likely opponents in that campaign, had his own shot across the bow a few months ago. Rand said Christie was probably turning off primary voters with a few of his more liberal views and his embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy ravaged his state. If Christie was firing back in kind, he should have gone with a more proportional response. Rand said Christie's beliefs might hurt him electorally; Christie said Rand's beliefs might lead to another 9/11. Not exactly a fair battle.
As I've often pointed out, Chris Christie is an incredibly gifted politician, able to find approval in places other Republicans only dream of. So maybe he's outsmarting us all yet again. But is it ever advisable to so savagely attack your own side before you ask them to vote for you?