This Week, Republican turned Independent turned No Labels turned Democrat Charlie Crist is supposed to announce his run for the job he already once gave up on. In his first term, he was a “Reagan Republican.” Since getting whooped by Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate race, Crist now plans to, I guess, undo everything he did in his first term. I’m not really sure, but what I am sure of is that his trial-lawyer rip-off campaign theme is going to drive me crazy. (Also Read: Why Charlie Crist is the Best Example of the Worst of Politics)
First, there was this video where Crist reintroduces himself. Whew, now that that’s over…
Forget the vagueness of his positions (this will be entertaining to watch in 2014) and forget his attempted nuanced approach on the pro-life issue. What I am talking about her is: YOU THE PEOPLE.
This will probably be a little Florida-centric here, so let me explain. After 2010, Crist returned to the law profession where he teamed up with his buddies at an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer law firm. This unnamed law firm – and if you live in Florida you know what I am talking about – has a campaign theme. To some, it may be considered catchy. To others, it’s highly annoying. That theme is: FOR THE PEOPLE. If you see ten billboards in Florida, for of them are FOR THE PEOPLE. If you listen to radio, 20% of the ads are FOR THE PEOPLE. If you watch TV, well you get the point. And if you don’t, my point is: the slogan is very annoying. And it follows you. Everywhere. Sometimes I have a dream where an alien is chasing me, then he catches up and whispers eerily in my ear: “FOR THE PEOPLE.”
Given the amount of ads for this firm – and I’m sure there is someone with a paid FOR THE PEOPLE tattooed to their forehead – I’m guessing it has done them well. And since Charlie Crist couldn’t be so blatant as to run for Governor FOR THE PEOPLE he instead is going to run for YOU THE PEOPLE.
In the ad, we get…
“Every day YOU, THE PEOPLE, were in charge.”
“Only YOU THE PEOPLE can end this nonsense and get us back to common sense.”
“Government on the fringes, donors and politics above YOU, THE PEOPLE.”
“I work for YOU, THE PEOPLE. Always have and always will.”
That was four references to, you know, YOU THE PEOPLE, in one paragraph. And the campaign ads haven’t even started yet. I can see it already: Radio spots about YOU THE PEOPLE in between spots about FOR THE PEOPLE. If only they believed in a document that started WE THE PEOPLE. But, alas….
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Approval ratings for Congress sit in the mid-teens. President Obama and his signature legislation, Obamacare, regularly stay above 50% in disapproval ratings. Distrust for politicians and distaste for politics is at an all-time high. And why? For one good example look no further than Charlie Crist, former Governor of Florida and one-time rising conservative Republican star.
A popular first-term Governor in an important state, Charlie Crist would land on John McCain’s VP shortlist during the 2008 Presidential election. By 2010, he thought he would easily walk into the US Senate and opted to give up his Governorship. And when a primary challenger appeared, he declared himself the conservative Reagan Republican and his his opponent, Marco Rubio, as the big spending liberal. And while Crist was not a favorite of the conservative base and was a moderate, he willingly embraced most conservative issues. Think Chris Cristie: a guy who is fairly conservative but manages to irk conservatives in order to maintain a bi-partisan appearance. Old Crist supported school choice, gun rights, ultrasound requirements before an abortion, Sarah Palin, and merit pay for teachers.
And then he realized he was going to lose the primary. He could have been gracious and conceded. Still very popular, had he waited just two short years he could have run for the other US Senate seat, held by Democrat Bill Nelson, and he probably would have won. But, you see, Charlie Crist has an ego. And he wanted that Senate seat. One scrubbed website later and Charlie was now an Independent running for the seat and hoping to keep his current Republican support while picking up a large chunk of Independents and Democrats. He lost. Big time.
More than a Party Change
Charlie Crist didn’t just change parties. Many politicians have changed parties over the years including Ronald Reagan, who once was a Democrat, and Hillary Clinton, who volunteered for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. But Crist wasn’t exactly an Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chaffee Republican-to-Democrat switcher. They both had big government, anti-gun, pro-choice beliefs that always aligned with the opposing party long before their switches. And while their switches were equally political, little changed in their ideology. For Crist, everything changed.
It wasn’t a gradual change for Charlie Crist. Overnight he went from a guy who swore Marco Rubio was the true liberal and he was Reagan reincarnated to someone meeting with Democrats to convince the Democratic nominee to drop from the race. His pro-life stances were scrubbed from his campaign website. Now that’s a trustworthy guy. After his switch, he suddenly opposed and later vetoed bills on ultrasound requirements well as merit pay for teachers, bills he previously supported. He now believed whatever he felt was necessary to win. His blatancy in it all is what was shocking. Though Crist was initially favored to win a 3-way race, ultimately he alienated the Republican and Independent supporters he did have by his swift change in ideology and never gained enough traction among Democrats. In the end, Rubio won an impressive 87% of Republicans and even 51% of Independents despite a popular current Governor and a Democrat from Congress being on the same ballot.
After burning bridges with the Republican Party, he would become an Independent and join “No Labels,” a group made up of mostly center-left politicos and liberals who don’t like to be called center-left politicos or liberals. By the time the 2012 election rolled around, Crist would be given a prime-time speaking spot at the Democratic convention and officially jump to the Democratic Party. So here he was, trying for a complete political makeover. A patient politician would have been running against Bill Nelson as the Reagan Republican he claimed to be rather than setting up for a run another two years later for a job he had already decided he was too good for.
What if Crist had Won in 2010?
Let’s pretend Crist had crushed Rubio in the 2010 Republican primary like most analysts had predicted. Would Crist be a Democrat today? No. Would he have supported Barack Obama? Doubtful. But he might have even been a VP option for Mitt Romney. Would Crist support most of the things that are going to be part of his 2014 campaign for Governor and are a complete about-face from his first term as Governor? Unlikely. It isn’t that Crist changed parties. It’s that he changed an ideology overnight for completely political reasons. And if you believe that Crist was always a liberal who was faking being a conservative Republican – as many Rubio-supporters clearly believed – is that really any better?
This opinion on Crist has little to do with the 2014 race, which will be discussed separately. I don’t think he has a much better chance than any other Democrat at beating Rick Scott, a mostly unpopular Republican who was lucky to win in 2010. Honestly, I don’t think he is that great of a politician. First, he willingly destroyed his bi-partisan appeal by turn-coating in 2010. A smarter, more patient politician would have been sworn in to the US Senate in 2013 after beating Bill Nelson. Rather than keep his bi-partisan appeal intact in a red-leaning state, he blew it up out of impatience and opted to try to rebuild with a party he previously drew the least amount of support from and an ideology he long battled. And now he has to rely, in a mid-term election with no Senate or Presidential races from which to benefit, on being self-sufficient in turning out a group of people who opposed his policies for years while also having his former party rabidly irritated by you. Either way, we all look forward to seeing what the “new” Charlie Crist can do.