My favorite moment during the GOP debate in Las Vegas came when Rand Paul cut my governor off at the kneecaps.
Not that that’s hard to do. When Chris Christie overplays his tell-it-like-it-is, Jersey-tough-guy shtick—encouraged lately by a slight bump he has raised in the New Hampshire polls—he tends to walk into traps of his own making.
CNN debate moderator Wolf Blitzer had asked him whether, if the United States imposed a no-fly zone over Syria and a Russian plane invaded it, he would “be prepared to shoot down that Russian plane and risk war with Russia.”
“Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it,” Christie said, without hesitation.
“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey, I just have this kind of plain-language hang-up. But I would make very clear [and tell Vladimir Putin], ‘Listen, Mr. President, there’s a no-fly zone in Syria; you fly in, it applies to you.’ And yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
This was just too easy a set-up for Rand Paul. “Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate,” Paul said to a mixture of jeers and cheers. Noting that Hillary Clinton also advocates a no-fly zone, Paul wondered if we really want “someone who is so reckless as to stand on the stage and say, ‘Yes, I’m jumping up and down, I’m going to shoot down Russian planes.’ Russia already flies in that airspace. It may not be something we’re in love with the fact that they’re there, but they were invited by Iraq and by Syria to fly in that airspace.”
When we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III, we might think about someone who would shut down a bridge because they don’t like their friends.
Boom. Thank you, Rand.
Christie acted like he never heard the B-word, of course, sputtering on in his reply about how Obama and Clinton were truly reckless for inviting Russia into Syria in the first place (Russia built its military base in Syria in 1971, when Obama was 10 years old, but hey, the Guv is communicatin’ here).
And many in the Beltway media acted like they didn’t hear it, either. They’re eager for Christie to score a Comeback Kid moment in New Hampshire, especially since the conservative Manchester Union Leader endorsed him last month. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Jennifer Rubin both deemed Christie one of the debate’s big winners, with the latter writing that the governor “played the role of the experienced adult.”