Jonah Goldberg thinks Chris Christie meant to disparage “isolationists” rather than libertarians in his comments last month:

In July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had a set-to over American foreign policy. Christie clumsily denounced “this strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought.” It was clumsy in its garbled syntax but also in its ill-considered shot at “libertarianism.” What he meant to say, I think, was “isolationist,” and that is the term a host of commentators on the left and right are using to describe Paul and his ideas.

It’s possible that this is what Christie meant to say, but I don’t think so. He referred to libertarianism specifically because he identified it with efforts to rein in NSA surveillance activities. Gene Healy put Christie’s remarks in their proper context:

Rep. Justin Amash’s unsuccessful July 24 effort to defund the National Security Agency’s dragnet collection of Americans’ call records failed in a close vote, 205 to 217.

Thursday morning, New Jersey’s Chris Christie threw a punch at surveillance skeptics like the Michigan Republican: “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now … I think is a very dangerous thought.” “These esoteric, intellectual debates” won’t mean anything when “the next attack” kills “thousands of Americans.” “I remember what we felt like on Sept. 12, 2001,” Christie declared.

What bothered Christie was that there was an effort to keep this kind of government power in check, and he described that effort as dangerous. This is a dispute over the proper role and intrusiveness of government, and Christie came down squarely on the side of much greater intrusiveness and much less privacy, and he justified his position in the most demagogic way possible. So Christie didn’t use the wrong word when he attacked libertarianism, since that is exactly what he meant to reject. So the disagreement between Christie and Paul was principally over limiting the power of what the government can do in the name of national security, and Christie’s position is that modestly limiting that power is the more dangerous option. Christie meant to attack libertarianism, since he doesn’t seem to think that limits on this kind of government power are desirable.