Chris Christie vs. Rand Paul: Splintered Battle for Future of Republican Party

PHOTO: Rand Paul and Chris Christie
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The adage holds that Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line.

These days, though, the GOP line looks more like a scrum – or, more accurately, competing lines forming at odd angles on a range of different issues.

From immigration and national security policies to how far to take the fight against Obamacare -- which the Republicans are practically unanimous in hating -- major players inside the Republican Party are deeply divided against one another in unusually public fashion.

With the party's splits on vivid display on both Capitol Hill and among expected players in the nascent 2016 campaign, the question growing inside Republican circles is whether the deep rifts will heal themselves in time for the next election, where GOP leaders see huge opportunities to make gains.

"We have an identity crisis, and you see the identity crisis playing out through all the various fissures," said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican strategist. "It could take several election cycles until we actually come to consensus again. Our party may have to go to the brink of disaster before we pull back and realize what we have to do."

The internal battles are generally following the contours of insider-outsider disagreements that have defined the Republican establishment's often uneasy relationship with the Tea Party. But the shifting cast aligning or opposing one another on various fronts make the battles difficult to track, much less control.

The most colorful display is the ongoing brawl between two of the Republicans' brightest young stars: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Last week Christie worried aloud that attacks by Paul and other libertarian-leaning Republicans on National Security Agency surveillance programs were "dangerous" and reflected forgotten lessons of 9/11. Paul responded by saying the comments were a "cheap and sad" attempt to exploit the victims of 9/11, and suggested that those who think like Christie are forgetting the Bill of Rights.

By early this week, the battle between the party titans devolved into outright name-calling. Paul labeled Christie the "King of Bacon" for his attempts to secure federal dollars for his state; Christie retaliated with statistics on Kentucky's dependence on U.S. taxpayers and went on to call Paul a "Washington insider" – fighting words inside either party.

The NSA battle also flared up last week in the House of Representatives. A back-bench Tea Party congressman, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, came within a few votes of defeating the combined forces of the White House and House Speaker John Boehner, in an attempt to cease NSA surveillance programs that made for the strange bedfellows of liberals joining libertarians.

On immigration, the Republican Party is locked in a well-publicized fight, mostly with itself. Despite an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate that drew the support of the likes of Sens. Marco Rubio and John McCain, House Republicans' internal disagreements are effectively halting action for the foreseeable future, with Boehner stuck in the middle.

And on Obamacare, aside from semi-regular repeal attempts meant to make a statement, a band of relative Senate newcomers is agitating for Republicans to hold up all government funding – risking a government shutdown – in an effort to deny money for the new health care law.

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