Sometimes politicians stumble into fights. But sometimes they announce them in advance, calling out their opponents in an unmistakable, almost taunting way. It’s hard to see Chris Christie’s gratuitous slap at “this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now” followed up quickly by a confirmation that Rand Paul was one of those promoting an “intellectual, esoteric debate” that risks another 9/11, as anything other than an invitation to rhetorical fisticuffs.

You might want to listen to Christie’s entire rap, offered at an Aspen Institute event for Republican governors. Some Paulite put up the relevant audio at Youtube accompanied by helpful photos of the New Jersey governor yukking it up with Barack Obama during the Sandy crisis:

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It’s pretty clear: wimpy professorial types like Obama in 2008 and Rand Paul now can bloviate about civil liberties without having to deal with terrorists or speak to the families of their victims. Real leaders know better. And Republicans need to accept that they can’t distinguish Obama’s anti-terrorist policies from George W. Bush’s, which were absolutely right. Christie also went on in the best Dick Cheney fashion to hold “esoteric” civil libertarian dissenters at least partially responsible for future attacks on the U.S. that kill “thousands of Americans.”

Rand Paul’s camp, which has always seemed eager for this very fight within the GOP, has already fired back:

Mr. Paul’s advisers in Washington heard the message loud and clear and fired back that Mr. Christie is out of touch with growing concern in the country over privacy and civil liberties.

A senior adviser to Mr. Paul initially sought anonymity to criticize Mr. Christie. But Friday morning, the adviser, Doug Stafford, put his comments on the record — and invoked New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen to add an additional jab at Mr. Christie.

“If Governor Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is ‘esoteric,’ he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years,” Mr. Stafford said. “Defending America and fighting terrorism is the concern of all Americans, especially Senator Paul. But it can and must be done in keeping with our Constitution and while protecting the freedoms that make America exceptional.”

This long-range fight comes a day after PPP released a survey showing Paul and Christie running first and second (Christie’s actually tied with Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan) among Republicans expressing an early 2016 preference. You have to figure that Neocons–whose early 2016 heart-throb, Marco Rubio, is having a very difficult year so far–are ecstatic at having another apparent champion who can attract massive attention every time he opens his mouth, though some of them may be annoyed at Christie’s assertion of identity between Bush’s and Obama’s policies. For his part, Christie could use a source of support in the GOP that extends beyond northeasterners or people fixated on general election polls.

Given the apparent readiness to rumble of both sides in this fight, it could get pretty wild pretty fast. And unlike some of the GOP’s intraparty arguments–say, over exactly which hostage to take in demanding an insane Cut, Cap and Balance constitutional amendment, or whether instead to demand the repeal of Obamacare–this one is real.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.