By Alexandra Jaffe - 08/01/13 12:59 AM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R) on Wednesday cried uncle in his feud with Chris Christie (R), inviting the New Jersey governor for a beer to patch up their differences.
Paul declared on a local New Hampshire radio show that while he “didn’t pick this recent fight,” he feels “the party does better if we have less infighting, so I would suggest if he wants to ratchet it down, I’m more than happy to.”
The Kentucky senator later told Fox News that “anytime [Christie] would like to come down and sit down at the pub right around the corner from the Senate we’ll have a beer.”
Christie spurned Paul’s overture.
On Thursday Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) offered to host the two Republicans for a drink in his state.
The Paul-Christie scrap has captivated Republicans over the past week and has highlighted deep ideological divisions on national security and federal spending.
Paul’s peace offering underscores the risks that the freshman senator, who is still finding his way among establishment Republicans, faces in taking on Christie, a seasoned political brawler with a flair for populist rhetoric.
The days-long war of words began last week when Christie described Paul’s “strain of libertarianism” as “dangerous” to the GOP.
The two subsequently sparred over spending, with Christie suggesting Paul brings excessive pork-barrel money back to Kentucky. Paul dubbed Christie as the “king of bacon” for his aggressive pursuit of federal aid for Hurricane Sandy recovery.
Wednesday’s sudden de-escalation followed a discussion among aides to both Paul and Christie who felt it was time for a truce.
“Sen. Paul is moving on because he wants to focus on his amendment to cut off foreign aid to Egypt after the recent coup, as mandated by law,” a source close to Paul told The Hill, referring to a failed bid by the Kentucky senator to end U.S assistance to Egypt.
Paul arguably had the most at stake in trading early jabs with another potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, political analysts say.
His olive branch to Christie reflects the fact Paul remains a GOP insurgent who is vying for attention in a party growing warmer to — but not fully accepting of — its burgeoning libertarian wing.
Repeated attacks on Christie threatened to jeopardize Paul’s ability to expand his appeal beyond his base, University of Iowa political science professor Timothy Hagle said.
His father, Ron Paul, had a penchant for “poking the badger” — jabbing other Republicans — that won him few friends in the party and foiled his own presidential ambitions.
Rand has been working to demonstrate that he can play nice with the establishment, whose support he’ll need to be taken seriously in 2016.
“That’s the key for Rand Paul if he decides to run, or even if not, just to be a player in the process. He has to reach beyond his father and get some more mainstream type of Republicans, who may not be as keen on some of the libertarian aspects as far as social issues are concerned,” he said.
Rand Paul remains one of the best-liked Republicans, according to a Pew Research poll released Wednesday. It showed that among prominent Republicans, only Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is seen more favorably among Republicans. He also led the GOP primary field in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But Christie appeared to relish taking on Paul, using the feud as a way to try and define the Kentucky senator — who came to Congress an outsider — as a creature of Washington.
“I was asked a question at a forum in Aspen [Colo.] and I gave an answer,” he said this week, explaining his initial criticism of libertarianism as dangerous.
“Now I know that for politicians in Washington, D.C., this is a completely foreign concept … If you ask me a question, I give an answer. That’s what people expect from people in public life.”
Christie faced his own risks in lashing out at Paul.
He is viewed with skepticism — and often disdain — by many conservative Republicans still smarting over his embrace of President Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and before last November’s presidential election.
Christie further angered Tea Party conservatives with his sharp attacks on efforts by House Republicans to limit post-hurricane aid they argued was laden with unnecessary spending.
The New Hampshire Union-Leader, a conservative paper which plays a large role in the Granite State’s presidential primaries, slammed Christie in an editorial last week. It called him “far outside the mainstream of American thought.”
New Hampshire may become a high-stakes battleground for Christie if he runs in 2016, and he also faces a challenge competing in the social-conservative bulwarks of Iowa and South Carolina.
But while Christie has trailed Paul in some early GOP primary polls, he regularly fares better than other potential 2016 Republicans in a match-up against Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in polls on the Democratic nomination.
Some Republicans felt Paul took the feud with Christie too far. They saw his references to the governor as the “king of bacon” as a veiled shot at the governor’s weight.
Hagle said Paul, by framing his attack on Christie in personal terms, risked detracting from the case he’s been trying to make on national defense and security policy.
“He’s sort of the point-man for this kind of argument. It would make sense if he’s trying to dial back the rhetoric a bit, so you could have a constructive discussion without ruffling people’s feathers,” he said.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell suggested that Paul’s persistent negative attacks on Christie could spark a backlash among the establishment voters the senator will need to court.
“To win the 2016 GOP nomination, Rand Paul will certainly have to appeal to establishment voters. And he knows that right now Chris Christie is the darling of establishment Republicans. If he continues to jab Christie so openly, establishment Republicans will work hard to defeat Rand,” O’Connell said.
But even as he seeks peace with Christie in their current fight, Paul —who has also sparred with the likes of GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — is not about to retreat from future fights, O’Connell predicted.
“He’s going to lash out at anyone else who rises in the polls who’s not [GOP Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz,” he said. “Those are the ones whose potential votes he’s trying to get to broaden his appeal.”