One of the biggest clashes in the Republican debate Thursday night came after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked about his past attacks on Senator Rand Paul. The two men disagree about an NSA program that spied on tens of millions of innocent Americans by logging all phone calls they dialed and received. Paul, a leading critic of the phone dragnet, has argued that it flagrantly violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Christie has said that if America is hit by another terrorist attack, Paul should be called before Congress to answer for his efforts to constrain the NSA’s domestic spying.
“Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?” a moderator asked Thursday. The ensuing exchange highlighted stark differences in how the rival candidates would govern and their respective understandings of the Constitution.
Christie stood by his attack.
“Yes, I do,” he said. …
Paul responded to Thursday’s attack by expressing his preference for targeted surveillance rather than an expansive dragnet that sweeps up everyone’s metadata. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,” he said. “The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights. I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.”
Christie was ready with a retort.
“You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know?” Like Keith Alexander, Christie seemed to be arguing that the government needs to intrude on everyone’s private communications to identify terrorists. It’s the logic of general warrants. How can the police know who is keeping an illegal gun in their home without searching the contents of everyone’s home? Republicans uncomfortable with that logic should avoid voting for phone dragnet supporters.
“Get a warrant!” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign the warrant!” …
In fact, “get a judge to sign a warrant” is a rather succinct description of how “the system” is “supposed to work,” if we define “the system” as the Constitution rather than national-security officials following their gut instincts. It’s hardly “blowing hot air” for a senator to call on the executive branch to follow the law.
“Here’s the problem, governor,” Paul said. “You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants, indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end. I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”
Rather than articulate why he believes individualized warrants are neither lawfully required nor prudent, Christie chose to address the “hugging Obama” part of the argument. …
I cannot comment on the style preferences of a GOP voter base that presently prefers Donald Trump to all other candidates. But on substance, Paul easily bested Christie in this exchange. …
Christie seems oblivious to the basic logic of the Bill of Rights. The constraints it places on government are not suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack––they are, in fact, most important precisely when a polity is panicked and officials are unusually able to seize excessive power without criticism. His praise for leaders unapologetically jettisoning such constraints in the name of protecting us is more dangerous than any terrorist plot in U.S. history.
In early May, Gov. Chris Christie arrived at the Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey for a political fund-raiser. Donors, many of them longtime backers of his, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and views of the Lower Manhattan skyline while he spoke of the important work to be done on issues like jobs and the economy.
Not a single check was written to Mr. Christie’s campaign. Indeed, some of those in attendance were legally prohibited from doing so, because they had sizable contracts with state agencies and were therefore barred by New Jersey law from making large contributions to the governor.
Instead, the donors wrote checks for as much as $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association, an organization Mr. Christie helps lead that has collected $1.65 million from New Jersey donors during the first six months of the year.
The association has, in turn, poured $1.7 million into Mr. Christie’s re-election effort, with television advertisements attacking State Senator Barbara Buono, his Democratic opponent in the election this year.
Mr. Christie’s close relationship with the association provides a playbook for how carefully choreographed independent spending campaigns can undermine the rules meant to curtail the political influence of government contractors; New Jersey’s pay-to-play law strictly limits the participation of state contractors in political giving.
According to an analysis by The New York Times, a third of the $1.65 million the association raised in New Jersey came from people and businesses who had significant contracts with the state, or from utilities, which are prohibited from making any contributions to candidates for governor.
…according to delegates who attended the Democratic convention here, the Newark mayor, long considered a rising star in his party, is positioning himself to run against New Jersey’s popular Gov. Chris Christie in 2013. They say he’s in good shape to do so.