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Republicans welcome a Christie-Paul debate, but internal GOP rumblings continue

Republicans on Sunday dismissed the argument that the party is being hurt by the feud between Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the direction of the party -- but the infighting appears far from over.

“I really believe a debate is not a bad thing,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told ABC’s “This Week.” “I think these debates are good.”

Priebus’ comments came after the RNC closed its annual summer meeting, this year in Boston.  

“We had a very positive meeting, and there was peace and debate about a party that is drastically changing their policy,” he added.

Paul and Christie -- top contenders for a potential 2016 presidential run -- have disagreed sharply over the past few weeks about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

Paul, a libertarian, has been critical of the agency’s large-scale gathering of data on Americans’ phone calls and Internet activities, saying it’s an invasion of citizens’ personal privacy.

Christie has defended the program, arguing in large part that New Jersey residents are still suffering from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000  in New York, at the Pentagon and on the hijacked plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

“The party is big enough for both of us,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s big enough for a lot of different Republicans.”

Still, he warned that saying the party isn’t big enough for a variety of ideas is a “big mistake,” considering Republicans must attract a larger cross-section of voters to survive and win elections.

Paul’s response follows his father, libertarian and retired Texas Rep. Ron Paul, telling CNN that Christie “offers nothing” except “more big government.”

Paul, who filibustered on the Senate floor to demand answers on the Obama administration’s drone program targeting Americans, said Christie started the disagreement by saying the party didn’t have room for libertarian Republicans.

Christie said at last week’s RNC meeting about the future of the party:  “We are not a debating society. … We are a political operation that needs to win.”

Priebus on Sunday poured gasoline on his own rift with Eric Fehrnstrom, a top consultant on the Romney 2012 campaign who said Priebus is wrong to attack CNN and NBC for plans to produce shows about Hillary Clinton.

“Attacking the media is a loser's game,” Fehrnstrom tweeted about a Priebus-led decision to block the two networks from sponsoring 2016 presidential debates, unless they cancel the shows about Clinton, the undecided but presumptive Democratic front-runner in 2016.

"I’m not really taking advice from Eric Fehrnstrom right now,” Priebus told ABC. “I’m trying to build a party. ”

He also said his job was to “protect this party and our nominees” and that the GOP has already made efforts to become a more “year around” party and is connecting with minorities by hiring 157 outreach people across the county. Priebus said the RNC hopes to double that number in the near future.