DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Judging by the calendar I've got up here and some simple math, the election to succeed President Obama is still three years away.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Right. But some political calculus may be at play that makes it seem like the 2016 campaign is just around the corner. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Randy Paul - two likely Republican contenders - have been having a very public and personal fight over the last week.
GREENE: Meanwhile, two potential Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, shared a meal yesterday. Now, since we couldn't be a fly on the wall for that meeting, we've brought in the next best thing, NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea, here in the studio.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
GREENE: So is this a little bit of role reversal? I mean, Republicans historically seem better at unifying. The Democrats squabble a lot. We might be seeing a different dynamic on both sides, here.
GONYEA: Yes. And we don't want to speak in absolutes here, but let's start with the Republican Party: no frontrunner. Is it Rand Paul? Is it Chris Christie? Is it Rick Santorum? Is it Ted Cruz? Is it Rick Perry? Is it Marco Rubio?
GREENE: A long list of possibilities.
GONYEA: It's a long list. But let's look at the history. In 2012, Mitt Romney was seen as the frontrunner. He had a battle with Rick Santorum, but he emerged as the nominee. Before that, it was John McCain's turn. Before that it was George W. Bush's turn. Before that, it was Bob Dole's turn. I could go on and on, but that's how they traditionally do it. Not this time.
GREENE: Well, then, the bickering that we have been seeing from some Republicans, is it just personalities coming out, jockeying for position? Or is there something deeper going on here?
GONYEA: There are some big personalities here. But it feels like, mostly, it's issues. Republicans are fighting big fights now, internal fights, about immigration. To some degree, they're battling about same-sex marriage. But lately - at least since the NSA and Edward Snowden affair - the big issue seems to be about national security.
Here's one of those potential candidates. It's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He's talking about having this debate in the shadow of 9/11.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: This strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think is a very dangerous thought.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Senator Rand Paul, for example?
CHRISTIE: Listen. You can name any number of people who have engaged in it, and he's one of them. I mean, these esoteric, intellectual debates - 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.
GREENE: That's deep stuff.
GONYEA: Explain to these families why you think the U.S. should not be doing these things that - as Governor Christie said - were put in place by President Bush, continued by President Obama.
GREENE: Which is the libertarian view that Christie is talking about, referring to Paul and some others who, on the Republican side, have basically used a libertarian argument in saying that privacy is important, that these surveillance programs shouldn't be happening.
GONYEA: Been too much of a cost to freedom, they say. Senator Paul has responded. This is from Fox News this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
SENATOR RAND PAUL: It's 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. Hogwash. If he cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn't be in this gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme all the money you have in Washington or don't have, and he'd be a little more fiscally responsive and know that the way we defend our country, the way we have enough money for national defense is by being frugal and not by saying gimme, gimme, gimme all the time.
GONYEA: This is the summer of 2013. This is the kind of thing that you expect to hear in the heated primary battle.
GREENE: Gloves not coming off - it seems like - on the Democratic side. The Democrats, through the ages, known for disagreements and infighting. But have they moved beyond that for the moment?
GONYEA: We do seem to be in a moment where there is peace within the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has clearly become the party of minority voters. It has increasingly become the party of women voters. And with those things comes some agreement on social and even many economic issues. So we can't underestimate the power of that.
GREENE: Speaking of power, some powerful photo ops that we've seen recently: President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoying lunch, and yesterday, Clinton at the home of Vice President Joe Biden having scrambled eggs and turkey bacon together. I mean, are they potential rivals in 2016?
GONYEA: They are potential rivals. Obviously, what we say here today could change...
GREENE: Won't be hold against you. I promise.
GONYEA: There is a sense that if Secretary Clinton runs, then Vice President Biden probably doesn't run.
GREENE: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea, great to see you.
GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.