Eminentoes

Magnificent Irrelevance

Democrats hitch their wagon to a burnt-out star.

By 9.7.12

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What an odd choice by Debbie Wasserperson Schultz, chairwomanperson of the Democratic Party. With all the consequential things going on in America and the world, why invite such an inconsequential personage as Charlie Crist to speak on the final night of the Democratic convention? Why such a lightweight by any measure, just before such heavyweights as the Democrats have? Can the party be that hard-up for speakers?

I guess the charm for Democrats is that Crist, who was a RINO during his single term as Florida's governor, and then became an independent because he couldn't keep up with Marco Rubio in the Republican Senate primary in 2010, has endorsed Obama for re-election and has said a bunch of glowing, downright fantastical stuff about him. Veteran Charlie-watchers in Florida expect Crist to register Democrat and run in 2014 against current Republican governor Rick Scott, who is more popular than dandruff, but barely. Republican to Democrat cross-dressing is rare these days, so this was undoubtedly Charlie's ticket to speak.

Crist's six-minute witnessing for Obama was mostly fluff, as his speeches mostly are. There were the usual clichés about "common sense solutions" and "finding common ground" with no specifics about which solutions or what common ground on what. Crist wore out these dreary tropes in the 2010 Senate race and lost to Rubio by 20 points.

And Democrats should be skeptical about the few designative things he did say. Crist has a long history of saying one thing before doing something else, and holding such fluid positions on issues that it's a challenge for him to remember where he stands on anything on any given day. 

Crist stiffed Florida Republicans who had donated to his Senate campaign in 2010 by bolting the party, turning in his remaining conservative positions in for new liberal ones, and running against Rubio as an independent. This after saying repeatedly, including once on Fox News Sunday in late winter of 2010, that he would not leave the Republican Party and run as an independent. Crist is well and truly loathed among the conservative Republican base in Florida for these high jinks. And Florida Democrats have no reason to believe Crist won't stiff them as well when he finds it expedient to do so.

Charlie dragged Ronald Reagan in on his makeover scam, quoting, in reverse, the old cowpoke's explanation of why he became a Republican. "I didn't leave the Republican Party -- it left me," Crist said. He even trotted out that recent canard that even the normally acute Jeb Bush has fallen for, that "Ronald Reagan would have been too moderate, too reasonable for today's GOP."

Those paying even minimal attention are entitled to wonder about Crist's conversion. Take a look at some of the things Crist was saying, not years ago, but in 2010 when he was trying to out-conservative Rubio in the Republican primary: Crist continually referred to himself as a "Ronald Reagan conservative." He said he thought Sarah Palin was a great VP pick. After catching flack for saying he was for Obama's 786 billion stimulus slush fund, he said he was against it and said Obama was a profligate spender. He said he was pro-life and pro-gun. "You can't get more conservative than me," he said at campaign stops.

Barely two years later, Crist is whooping up a party that is anti-gun, incontinent in its spending, and considered Sarah Palin a threat to the republic when she was on the Republican ticket. He's hamming it up about how the very positions he held two years ago are now "extreme."

Florida Republicans are having fun at Charlie's expense. Rubio, who whomped Charlie in the 2010 Senate race, joked that Charlie is "running out of parties" to join. Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry called Crist "a crass opportunist" who is little more than a "political ladder climber." One who can't decide which ladder to climb.

"You can't make up Charlie Crist," Jeb Bush said on a recent appearance on Fox Business News. "He's unique. He's organized his life around his personal ambition and ran in a primary where he was the odds-on favorite, but didn't offer a compelling reason to be elected to the Senate. Marco Rubio cleaned his clock and beat him in the general and now he's trying to find a way to get back into the political game."

There is some evidence that Florida Democrats don't believe that Charlie is born again. Even if he is, they aren't keen on letting him start at the top. Several party luminaries have said there are plenty of "real Democrats" available to run against Scott in 2014.

Former State Senator from Gainesville, Rod Smith, now chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, who wasn't even told Crist would be speaking at the convention, told the Miami Herald, "If he wants to join our church, he'll be welcome in the congregation, but that doesn't mean he'll be preacher. He might not even be the choir director. He'll have a lot of 'splainin' to do."

So perhaps Charlie's excellent new political arrangement is not a true marriage, but just a six-minute late summer romance. Even so, what was Debbie Wasserperson Schultz thinking?

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.