The RPOF’s Crist Obsession: What It Means Going Forward

While Republicans gather in Tampa for what should be a week of triumph, many local GOP leaders have gone off the deep end. Florida Republicans such as Lenny Curry, George LeMieux, Jack Latvala and others have felt compelled to attack Crist in the media while their attention should be on the GOP Convention. Rather than simply ignore Crist or ridicule him, they have chosen to elevate his credibility by attacking him.

All of this is bizarre, unless Republicans actually want to elevate Crist’s profile to the point where he becomes an issue in this election or the next. In the past when the Democrats have suffered high profile defections (and we’ve had more than a few) the tendency has been to downplay or avoid discussion of the defection. But the GOP, always so disciplined in their message, showed weakness this week on the Crist matter. Clearly multiple Florida Republicans were singing from the same song sheet, but why were they so obsessive about Crist?  Barry Goldwater once admitted he put conservative Congressman William Miller (the father of liberal talk show host Stephanie Miller) on his 1964 ticket simply because “he drives LBJ nuts.”  Despite my differences with Crist it’s hard not to like him because he drives Florida Republicans crazy.

It is entirely possible the GOP senses an opportunity and would prefer Crist be prominent and a divisive figure among Democrats. Perhaps the statements of the GOP leadership were aimed more at enraging Democrats about Crist and perhaps depressing Democratic enthusiasm than anything related to the former Governor himself. Or perhaps, bereft of any positive message in a convention week, the GOP needs a bogeyman. This time instead of unions, trail lawyers or welfare “queens” it is Charlie Crist.

Crist’s history is that of a political chameleon and a populist whose adroit political moves are typically one or two steps ahead of the opposition. This is not a revelation. What is interesting is that some of the Republicans attacking him have moved ideologically as well but have simply shifted right in order to placate their party.  Take, for example, Senator Jack Latvala who said on Sunday “I believe that philosophies can change over a lifetime, but someone who has any kind of a core philosophy to start with doesn’t change 180 degrees.” This is interesting because Latvala was one of the most liberal Republicans in his first Senate stint (1994 to 2002) but since his return to the Senate in 2010 he has moved dramatically to the right in order to fulfill his ambition to be Senate President. Crist’s leftward shift from moderate conservative running as a Republican to Democratic supporting trial lawyer isn’t more dramatic than Latvala’s own conversion. Latvala himself would make a good Senate President considering the opposition, but his comment about Crist was disingenuous.

Charlie Crist’s record is a mixed one. He has shifted his views and rhetoric for political reasons. That is undeniable. A partisan and somewhat petty Republican hack in the 1990s, he turned into a populist in the 2000s until he decided to run for US Senate in 2009 as a Republican and he reverted to his 1990s self. So the policies Crist now advocate are not much different than his record as Attorney General or his first year and a half as Governor. But even when he veered in one direction there were traces of moderation always apparent. To partisan Democrats he was an attention grabbing contradiction, but to partisan Republicans he was always a bit of a loose cannon that could not be scripted and thus would best be disposed of.

As a State Senator he was all over the place.  Petty partisan, but with a streak of modern Republican decisively opposing race baiting in his public support for the Pitts and Lee Compensation package and backing several critical Environmental initiatives that are opposed by today’s GOP.  In 1996 he helped lead the Republican opposition to Governor Chiles landmark lawsuit against the Tobacco Industry and then a year later, Crist conducted another partisan witch hunt, this time against the attorneys who bravely represented the state in the Tobacco Lawsuit. In a twist of irony, some of those same lawyers became political allies of the more moderate 2000s version of Crist, and now he is part of their ilk.

In 1998, he wisely challenged unbeatable Democratic Senator Bob Graham but used the race to get his name out. In 2000, he ran for an office that was being abolished within two years, Commissioner of Education in order to further his name ID statewide. It was in that race, while running several counties for the Democratic nominee George Sheldon, I observed Crist’s unique qualities on the stump and one on one with voters. Previously, I had been highly tainted by the Tallahassee crowd I worked with, many of whom viewed Crist as a perennial lightweight and in some cases a comedy figure. That same crowd mocked Crist’s Attorney General credentials noting he had failed the Florida Bar exam multiple times and that the establishment GOP primary candidates (Senator Locke Burt and Solicitor General Tom Warner) were more qualified to be the state’s top law enforcement officer. Crist beat both of them (as well as large portions of the GOP establishment) and Democratic nominee Buddy Dyer handily, demonstrating incredible political skill and an uncanny grasp of voters concerns in the process. Fast forward to 2006, and many Bush loyalists displeased with Crist’s performance as Attorney General,( where he played populist and shifted positions frequently, in an office where the GOP wanted a partisan hack like Pam Bondi) opposed his nomination but he won both the primary and general election with ease.

With the Democrats suffering from a lack of a cohesive message over many years, perhaps Crist can help define an ideology.  For the better part of 15 years a Democratic Party that in Florida lacks any coherent message or policy vision other than attacking Republican officeholders and in some cases trying to distance themselves from National Democrats. Crist perhaps can help the Democrats put a finger on the pulse of the voters. At the same time it is important Democrats back the candidates for office who are the most progressive. Moderation has gotten the Florida Democrats zero, which is why Crist’s potential conversion is a no-lose situation for the party.If he is truly becoming a progressive and wants to work to help defeat Republicans in Florida, perhaps he should sit out the 2014 cycle, get behind the statewide Democratic ticket and then get a clean shot at Marco Rubio in 2016, during a Presidential election year.

Simply put many Florida Democratic leaders do not understand the states’ voters and the need to formulate a positive policy agenda. In the period since 1998 when the GOP has won 13 of 14 statewide offices and approximately 65% of contested Legislative elections, the Democrats have held a significant statewide registration advantage. This is the worst record of any state east of the Mississippi. In recent years demographic shifts in the state have favored the Democrats, and made it more and more difficult for the Republicans  to keep their statewide juggernaut going. Charlie Crist can only help the Democrats turn this around regardless of whatever baggage he may have and besides, he drives the Republicans nuts.

15 thoughts on “The RPOF’s Crist Obsession: What It Means Going Forward”

  1. Latvala is such a disappointment.

    His pandering to the right is much worse than Crist’s to the left.

    What about Lemuix misrepresenting large parts of Crist’s record in today’s Times?

  2. It seems to me that the Republican party (although they didn’t mention
    George W last night) are subscribing to the Bush play book of emotion and fear..and with those speeches of nostalgia, can’t get themselves into the current reality……of moving forward with a bonafide plan and solutions to the issues…..lying and hypocrisy is so in these days, maybe Crist saw just a little more sanity on the other side….

  3. Nothing but treachery from the yes men of the RPOF, “Monsewer “LeMeow along with born again rightie Latvala and others who chose the high ground of extremism, have made it RPOF policy to destroy Crist’s political status; who better than to wield the axe than LeMeow. Crist is the consummate politician who sails in the same barge as Romney; a once liberal Republican who for his own interests, moved the tuning dial from soft to loud. If Florida and it’s Republican despise Crist, how can they affirm loyalty to Romney? Both men carry the same ambitions and self interest only Crist is a lot better at playing it down. Both men have traded on the moment; both have been willing to sell their political souls in the interests of power. Besides Crist was never as conservative as they claim. They have rewritten his record to appear more party line than previously, yet he was almost universally opposed by the GOP hierarchy even if unofficially in previous primaries because he was too liberal and independent for many of them.

  4. Crist’s votes on Environmental issues have always been troubling. He has been unfair to Sugar which is a big driver of our economy despite George LeMeuix’s ties with Gunster who represents US Sugar. He was going to try and put Sugar out of business. He also worked with the Everglades Foundation and now his former COS is there pushing an amendment that would cripple the economy in Palm Beach County and one of the biggest supporters of Democrats.

    Sink would be better for Governor or someone who does not hurt industry here in Palm Beach.

  5. What a bunch of windbags. The only two to avoid the topic when asked were Jeb and Rubio. Maybe that’s why they are more successful than the others.

  6. CharLIE cannot be given our nomination. Too much history of being on the wrong side of issues although I would support him if it is just him versus Sink.

    The entire FDP should have its collective head examined and put away in an institution if Alex Sink is nominated again. She is a nice person and would have been a better governor than Scott but she ran a terrible campaign and didn’t really seem to have her heart in it. She also showed that she’s more concerned about appealing to conservative voters than core Democrats and that is why turnout was so low.

    As unfair as it may be, very often people have trouble getting excited about losers. Both Ms. Sink and her husband Bill McBride have been unsuccessful candidates for governor, McBride losing by the biggest margin a Democrat has ever lost by in this state. It’s time to go with someone fresh, competent and enthusiastic rather than recycling a previous candidate. Pam Iorio, Nan Rich or Buddy Dyer deserve consideration.

    Even I would support CharLIE versus Sink.

  7. Neil Republican Highland Beach

    There will be someone else outside of Sink and CharLIE. MS we love sugar…honey honey. I am going with Atwater. If you can’t beat them join them.

  8. Concerned Democrat

    This is all very true. I think most of us will back Crist when it comes down to it.

    Alex Sink is history. Done. Finished. Nan Rich has a better chance. Sinks likability is nil, she has hardly any experience and she was a horrible candidate, counting paper clips and cheating in debates. Charlie Crist on the other hand is still very well liked by many moderate Republicans who admire him for respecting and caring about the views and positions of all Floridians no matter what their party.

    He actually did represent the people well and treated the Dems with much respect.. Crist will crush Rick Scott, no matter how much money he spends. Rick Scott will not win reelection under any circumstances. Many republicans who think the party has gone too far to the right will vote for Crist, along with independents who generally prioritize their votes by issue and think that you should be able to represent the people and not the hard line party stances. If Charlie chooses to run the Dems should welcome him and look at it as a gift. He was kind to them as a Republican, he will be much more receptive and helpful to them as Governor. He has many friends across the state and probably still remembers every one of their names. This R would vote for him over Scott any day.

  9. Amazing the Crist obsession.

    We all know Charlie is out for Charlie buy at least he is moderate and tries to do what is right, most of the time. Now he is showing some backbone. Unlike the other republicans he isn’t bowing down and kissing the butt of Grover Norquist, the true leader of the republican party. Pepe Le Pew is nothing but a spineless follower who turned on his friend. Typical republican.

  10. Crist is so much like Mitt Romney it is funny. Crist has no backbone. The guy sucked at every level in every office. The Ds boast about how the GOP has sucked them down on every issue for the past 10 years. Charlie was there the whole time. He is welcome to party with the boys in Tally but he wont be able to lead without a fight. Let him run against Rubio in 2 years. The Ds should actually prepare for some real policy makers instead of the crap we have now, which reminds me of the gum attached to the bottom of my shoe. I agree about Sink. Her and husband have sunk. I am pulling for a Rich, Dyer ticket.

  11. I am not a charLIE Crist fan, but have to somewhat admire the fact that he was willing to separate himself from the mean spirited egotists who dictate. Thrasher’s attack is the latest. He is looking more and more acceptable to Democrats honestly.

  12. I love reading these articles!! Gives me (as a relative newcomer–2001) some context and understanding about Florida politics! Your efforts (and your opinions) are greatly appreciated….keep up the great work….thanks!