TAMPA -- A friend of mine, puzzled by Charlie Crist's frequent and opportunistic changes of positions on issues, asked me, "Do you think Charlie is two-faced?” My answer: "Why stop at two?”
Less than four months ago Crist, Florida's mercurial governor who pines for a softer job as a U.S. Senator, was a Republican in name only. Today he's a Democrat in everything but name. I believe I see a third face emerging.
Crist has changed his positions on the major issues of the day to suit his new circumstances. It's been a metamorphosis that even Ovid would find impressive. Right to left across the board. But then Crist's positions on issues have always been more entrepreneurial than ideological. The product is Charlie himself, and he's always pushed this product with whatever line of patter was necessary. On issues, when it's required, Charlie can turn on a dime and give you nine cents change.
Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio put paid to Crist's 17-year career as a Republican (though never a very reliable or consistent one) by running a campaign for the Republican Senate nomination on conservative themes that resonate with grassroots Republicans, the type who vote in primaries. By spring Rubio so far outdistanced Crist in polls of the Republican race that Crist decided his only chance to win was to run as an independent.
Crist made it official April 30, dropping all pretense to being a Republican. He stopped telling Floridians he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan. It's now Harry Truman he really wants to be when he grows up (an unlikely event).
This worked for a while. Democrat money flowed in and Crist enjoyed remarkably high levels of support from Democrats for a guy just off of a long GOP career, where he had held three statewide offices as a Republican. He also enjoyed more support from Republicans than you'd expect for a guy who now holds consistently liberal positions on almost all issues, and who takes every opportunity to agree with and praise President Obama. For a few weeks, longer than many expected, including me, Crist led in Florida's Senate three-way.
Crist was helped along by the Democratic Senate candidacy of Jeff Greene, a grotesque of a Palm Beach billionaire who made a packet on Wall Street betting that people would not be able to keep up with their mortgages. Greene, who is self-financing his campaign, led Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek in the polls for a few weeks. Now, with Democratic heavyweights like Billy-Bob Clinton campaigning for him in Florida, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making robo-calls for him, Meek has opened up a double-digit lead over Greene, and will probably be chosen as the Democratic nominee in the August 24 primary.
This is bad news for Crist. He'll lose many of his newfound Democratic supporters who will consider their flirtation with Crist just a summer romance and will vote for Meek in November. These are the folks who couldn't stomach Greene, and would have voted for Crist as a protest against their own party putting up such a hopeless hairball.
Much of the 20 to 25 percent of Republicans Crist will need to have any chance of winning will be out of reach as well as it sinks in how liberal Crist has become, and how much of a consistent Obama enabler he is. The polls are already showing this.
A Rasmussen poll last week showed Rubio ahead of Crist by 38 to 33 and Meek at 21 if Meek wins his primary. Saturday Mason-Dixon released a poll also showing Rubio ahead of Crist 38 to 33 with Meek trailing at 18.
The same Mason-Dixon poll shows voter approval of the job Crist is doing as governor sinking. Not surprising as Florida unemployment remains north of nine percent, the state apparently not that much refreshed by the Obama "stimulus” slush fund that Crist supported. And Floridians aren't much impressed by the endless series of photo-ops Crist indulged in during the Gulf oil spill crisis in lieu of exercising any real leadership. Not many are amused that Crist is about the only non-Democratic official in the lower-48 willing to say that Obama did a good job in the oil crisis.
More and more Crist is appearing like a candidate who knows he can't and won't win a Senate seat and is angling for a position in the Obama administration. This makes a lot of sense for Crist. An appointment as deputy secretary of this or that would keep him off the street for at least a couple of years. And being the political bi-sexual that he is, Crist could easily convince himself that he could weasel his way into a job with a Republican administration if there is one beginning in 2013.
Look at what he's doing. Crist echoes Obama's vigorous support for building of a mega-mosque and Muslim community center near Ground Zero, using the same tone-deaf and beside-the-point freedom of religion arguments. No vote getter in Florida. He's bad-mouthed the Arizona immigration law, which is very popular in Florida. He praises Obama for spending a weekend on Florida's Gulf beaches, thereby, Crist says, helping save jobs in the Florida tourism industry. He says nothing of the many more jobs lost by Obama's oil-drilling moratorium.
Crist is being absolutely sycophantic toward Obama and Company. But this is nothing new for Crist. When he wanted to be on the Republican ticket with John McCain in '08, he did everything but roll over and put his tummy up for scratching. In the spirit of bipartisan self-love, why should he act differently toward a Democrat who can save him from being thrown into the private sector, for which Crist has neither the taste nor the skills.
Crist's current behavior makes more sense if his new goal is to be one of Obama's spear-carriers in Washington. He's taking too many Obamaesque positions that a majority of Floridians don't fancy for someone who really thinks he can win the Senate race. This is just a theory rather than a complaint. I wouldn't mind seeing Crist out of Florida, working in D.C. as Deputy Secretary of Windmills. Far better that ciphers like Crist hold jobs that don't really matter. It gets them out of the way of people attempting real work.
Three faces in one election cycle may not be a record, but it's damned impressive. And there's more than two months to go. We may not have seen them all.
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