Nightly News | July 31, 2013
>>> today and all this week we have been following what just might be a battle for the heart and soul of the republican party . and while the debate is going on right now, a lot of folks believe it is important for what it means when the republicans have to choose a candidate in the next election. and the party gets to decide what it stands for. nbc's andrea mitchell has been watching it all for us. andrea, good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, brian. it is a great debate in the republican party and a preview of the likely 2016 campaign. this time it involves big personalities and big issues.
>> senator rand paul .
>> reporter: in one corner, kentucky senator rand paul , a tea party conservative, libertarian to the core. in the other, chris christie , all jersey, now blasting isolationist republicans like rand paul and texas senator ted cruz .
>> i want them to come to new jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. and they won't. because that's a much tougher conversation to have.
>> reporter: paul fired back this week, and they were off to the races.
>> and it is really, i think, kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, oh, i'm the only one who cares about these victims. hog wash.
>> maybe he should start look at cutting the pork barrel spending he brings home to kentucky, because most washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they can get re-elected.
>> this is the king of bacon talking about bacon. governor christie and others have been part of this gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme all this money.
>> reporter: it is a replay of republican debates from the last century. the isolationist senators who opposed getting into world war ii before pearl harbor , it played out on the senate floor again today as rand paul fought a losing battle against john mccain to block foreign aid .
>> what will they say about the bridges in northern kentucky that won't be built because we're sending the money to countries that are burning our flag.
>> the debate has gone on for the heart and soul of the republican party .
>> reporter: paul told nbc news tonight he lost in the senate today, but will win with the american people .
>> i think we may get voters who are like reagan democrats , blue collar democrats, who say that's a guy i can vote for because that's somebody who really is talking about how we help people in america.
>> both senator paul and governor christie are going to be major candidates in 2016 . they're heavyweight contenders for the republican nomination.
>> reporter: and there is this, in the latest issue of the new republic magazine, mccain was asked whether he would vote for hillary clinton or rand paul in 2016 . mccain replied, laughingly, it is going to be a tough choice. another sign of just how bitter this growing feud is among republicans, brian.
>> andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom, who, by the way, today, celebrated 35 years of service to this network and reporting on this network. and let's go ahead and kill her mike as i say we hope she's up for 35 more. andrea, thank you, congratulations.