His presidential campaign faltering, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky came out swinging Thursday night at the first Republican debate.
Paul was the first Republican on the debate stage in Cleveland to go after front-runner Donald Trump, mixing it up with the celebrity candidate and trading blows with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over national security.
Paul's at-times fiery performance came amid a tumultuous time for his campaign, beset by a rocky kick-off, months of bad press, lackluster fundraising and, just this week, the federal indictments of some of his closest allies.
Backed into that corner, Paul appeared to embrace a strike-first strategy during the Fox News Channel debate, going after Trump from the opening bell and mixing it up with Christie before stumbling over questions about his foreign policy.
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After Fox News host Bret Baier opened the debate by asking for a show of hands if any of the 10 GOP candidates would not commit to supporting the eventual Republican nominee and rule out an independent run, Trump was the only one to raise his hand.
Paul seized the moment.
As Trump tried to explain his reason for threatening an independent run, Paul jumped ahead of the pack to interrupt Trump and accuse him of "hedging his bet."
"This is what's wrong," Paul said. "He buys and sells politicians of all stripes. He's already hedging his bet on the Clintons."
As the debate wore on, Paul again jumped on a Trump answer as the reality TV star and real-estate mogul tried to defend his past support for more liberal universal health-care policies.
"News flash: The Republican Party's been fighting against the single-payer system for a decade," Paul said. "So I think you're on the wrong side of this if you're still arguing for a single-payer" system."
Trump shot back: "I don't think you heard me. You're having a hard time tonight."
But Paul's biggest brawl of the night came against Christie, his longtime rival among the 2016 candidates, over Paul's efforts in May to derail an extension of the Patriot Act.
When Christie was asked whether he still thinks Paul should have to testify in front of Congress if the United States is attacked by terrorists, the governor said yes, telling the crowd he would "make no apologies ever for protecting the lives and safety of the American people."
Paul responded by arguing that he wanted "to collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans."
"The Fourth Amendment is what we fought the revolution over," Paul said, leading Christie to respond that Paul had offered a "completely ridiculous answer."
Recalling his time as a U.S. attorney after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Christie said of Paul: "When you're sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air, you can say things like that."
After Paul shouted at Christie to "use the Fourth Amendment" and "get a warrant," he brought up Christie's well-documented hug with President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey.
"I don't trust President Obama with our records," Paul said. "I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead."
But Christie fired back, saying "the hugs that I remember are the hugs I gave to the families who lost their people on Sept. 11."
"Those are the hugs I remember, and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you're doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate and then putting them on the Internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign and while still putting our country at risk," Christie said.
Beyond those sharp exchanges with Christie and Trump, Paul appeared to struggle with questions about his foreign policy, gay marriage and why he had changed his mind about cutting off foreign aid to Israel.
On that last question, Paul said he had not changed his position, noting that while he had "no particular animus" toward Israel, he did not think the United States should be "borrowing money from China" to pay for foreign aid.
"I still say exactly what my original opinion is: Do you borrow money from China to send it to anyone," Paul said. "Out of your surplus, you can help your allies, and Israel is a great ally."
In brief closing remarks, Paul sought to highlight his minority outreach efforts and fight against the Patriot Act.
"And I'm the only one that leads Hillary Clinton in five states won by President Obama," Paul said. "I'm a different kind of Republican."