“Get a warrant!” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign the warrant!”
Christie did not engage on warrants.
“Listen, Senator, you know, when you're sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” he said. “When you're responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure––to make sure that you use the system the way that it’s supposed to work.”
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. “And you know—you know, Senator Paul? Senator Paul, you know, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11,” he said. “Those are the hugs I remember, and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you're doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate, then putting them on the Internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign, and while still putting our country at risk.”
That might be the strangest part of Christie’s answer. There he was, standing on a stage full of candidates who spend much of their time begging rich people for campaign cash. And yet, the single fundraising tactic that Christie chose to disparage was the comparatively pristine, democratic tactic of putting one’s senate speeches online in the hope that regular citizens will like what they say enough to donate money.
Isn’t that how campaign finance ought to work?
On Fox News after the debate, a couple of commentators suggested that Christie won his exchange with Paul. 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. Granted, I already agreed with his opposition to the phone dragnet. But even apart from that, when one candidate says policy x violates part y of the Constitution and a rival responds that he saw the Twin Towers fall and has hugged lots of survivors, identifying the more rational man isn’t hard.
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.