Updated at 1:54 p.m. ET on 7/26
(CNN) - Opponents of government spying programs should talk to families who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at a Republican governors forum Thursday.
Asked about the influence of libertarian-minded leaders in the GOP - including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky - Christie said that when it comes to national security, those who oppose National Security Agency programs that monitor Americans' electronic activity were just wrong.
"These esoteric, intellectual debates - I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans and have that conversation," Christie said. "And they won't. That's a lot tougher conversation to have."
Christie was appearing on a panel of governors that also included Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. All four are considered potential candidates for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, though the topic did not arise on Thursday.
Christie, speaking "as a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on September 10, 2001," urged caution when discussing calls to revamp the way the U.S. government collects data on Americans. A measure narrowly failed in the House Wednesday that would have restricted a phone monitoring program that came to light earlier this summer.
"This strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought," Christie said, referring to national security topics.
Christie acknowledged during the discussion that Paul, an outspoken critic of the NSA spying programs, was among the people who held opposing views.
"You can name any number of people, and he is one of them," he said.
The sharp denunciation from Christie elicited a similarly cutting retort from a senior adviser to Paul, the tea party favorite who is also considering a 2016 White House bid.
"If Governor Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is 'esoteric,' he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years," Doug Stafford wrote in a statement.
Quoting the Bruce Springsteen song "Long Walk Home," Stafford wrote, "In the words of the Governor's favorite lyricist, 'You know that flag flying over the courthouse, Means certain things are set in stone. Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't.'"
Later, on his campaign's Twitter account, Rand Paul went after Christie by making reference to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who served in the statehouse as a Republican but later became an independent, finally registering as a Democrat last year.
Republicans questioned in a Quinnipiac University national poll conducted earlier this month were divided on the NSA anti-terrorism program, which scans domestic calls. Forty-nine percent supported it while 45% were opposed.
On social issues, two of the governors - Walker and Pence - acknowledged that at home, their children have different viewpoints on topics like same-sex marriage.
"For me, going forward, when I talk to young people, including my three kids, it's about respect and authenticity for this generation," Pence said.
Christie, however, joked that such ideological dissonance wasn't permitted in his household.
"For me and Mary Pat, there's no use in having children if you can't brainwash them," he joked, adding that his son Andrew is a member of the Princeton Republicans.
"What I hear from Andrew is that what his friends, when they do talk about politics, that what they talk about is how broken it it," he said. "They wish that people would be nicer to each other."
CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby contributed to this report.