Campaign Crawlers

Crist Capades

Oh, what a tangled web Charlie weaves.

By 12.14.09

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Question: Is Florida Governor Charlie Crist a Republican or a Democrat? 
Answer: Yes. Depending on what's popular at the moment. Just as one can estimate the time of day by watching heliotropic plants as they lean toward the sun, one can tell an election is nearing when Charlie "Rorschach" Crist starts changing his positions, leaning in the direction of what's popular.

Taking a page from Flip Wilson's Reverend Leroy, Crist belongs to the Political Church of What's Happenin' Now." He's rotating his political stock, to insure that the freshest ideas from polls and focus groups are what he puts out front for the voting public. This is easy enough for a politician who, as Crist has repeatedly demonstrated, has no philosophical core beyond the core belief that he belongs in high office.

As Crist now wishes to be a U.S. Senator from Florida, the public he's most interested in is Republican primary voters, who this year are suffering from an acute case of RINO fatigue. The flavor of the year is clearly conservatism. So a revision of Crist's recent political career, which has been at least as Democrat-friendly as it has been conservative since Charlie was handed the keys to Florida's governor's mansion in 2007, is much in need if Crist is to prevail over conservative former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio in an August primary. The latest polls show Crist maintains a lead over the lesser known Rubio. But that lead is disappearing faster than beer at a frat party.

Just a couple of examples of the new-improved Charlie, fresh from the re-write department: Take President Obama's $7.87 billion stimulus slush fund (please). Crist didn't just take money for Florida from this failed policy after it was adopted, for which he could not be criticized because the money would have been spent somewhere anyway. He supported the policy before it was adopted. He urged the members of Florida's congressional delegation to vote for it, and went so far as to appear with Obama in Florida to whoop up the plan. He decided to sign on with a popular Democratic rookie president and his budget-busting plan at a time when other Republicans were supporting an approach that included far less federal spending and targeted tax cuts to stimulate the private sector.

Crist made his political bed last winter. But now that our rookie president is not so popular (and is likely headed back to AA ball after 2012, there to learn how to hit right-handed pitching), not to mention that his spending-on-steroids plan has yielded little more than mega-debt and promises of inflation to follow, Crist wishes to sleep elsewhere. He now claims he didn't advocate for the policy, even though he's captured on film multiple times and places doing and saying exactly that. He says now he wouldn't have supported the policy had he been in the Senate and was just looking out that Florida received its fair share of the federal boodle. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson could tell you what this claim is.

In a curious twist last week, Crist's new communications director, one Andrea Saul, fresh from the triumph of being director of media affairs for the John McCain presidential campaign, tried to suggest that Rubio is a hypocrite for saying that had he been governor last year he would have accepted stimulus money for Florida.

Perhaps Saul is hoping Republicans voters aren't nimble enough to tell the difference between being willing to take money that will be spent anyway and voting to spend the money in the first place. But it will be a challenge to get Republican primary voters, who tend to be more focused and informed than the run of general election voters, to believe that it's Crist and not Rubio who has been the consistent conservative on this one.

Perhaps this sort of thing worked in the campaign of President McCain, but …Oops, I guess it didn't.

Another major Crist re-write is in the area of cap and trade. In 2007 Crist's enthusiasm for this Soviet-style plan, beloved of statists of all stripes, was hotter even that Al Gore says our planet will be if we don't turn the economy over to Washington to run. Trying hard then to charm voters by being the un-Bush, Crist set up a dog and pony show in Miami in July of that year called "Serve to Preserve" (I don't get what it's supposed to mean either) where he called together such climate experts as Robert Kennedy Jr., and Arnold Schwarzenegger to indulge in a big public worry over global warming, which Crist called "one of the most important issues we will face this century."

Once Ah-nuld had drawn a crowd, Crist went on to demonstrate how dangerous the global warming issue can be, politically at least, by issuing executive orders requiring Florida utilities to generate 20 percent of their power using "renewable" fuels (i.e. very expensive fuels that exist in trifling amounts) and establishing a carbon cap and trade system in Florida. Fortunately, the orders required enabling legislation from the Florida Legislature, most of the members of which turned out to be less easy to stampede than Charlie.

Comes now La Saul again claiming that the procedural legislation Rubio helped get through the Florida Legislature which put the kibosh on Charlie's cap and trade order was in fact a cap and trade bill itself, making Rubio a capper and trader.

Nice try, says Rubio, but no way. The bill he wrangled through the legislature placed final approval of any cap and trade scheme with the state legislature, where Charlie's insane executive order died unattended. Provisions in the bill put in by Republicans also prevented the state from adopting California's strict and costly auto emissions standards, something else Crist said back then that he fancied, without approval from the legislature. 

A Rubio op-ed in the July 25, 2007 edition of the Miami Herald shows he was opposed to cap and trade from the beginning. In it he says, "There is widespread support for diversifying our energy portfolio and becoming more efficient in our use of energy. However, efforts to accomplish these goals must be based on common sense. Recently, Governor Crist issued a number of bold and well-intentioned energy edicts. We should applaud Governor Crist's willingness to spend political capital and tackling such an important issue. However the government mandates he has proposed will not only fail to achieve their desired result, they carry actual negative consequences. One impact is an increase in the cost of utilities."

While campaigning in 2009 Rubio has consistently opposed cap and trade, saying it carries the potential of turning the U.S. into a third world country. He says entrepreneurs rather than politicians and bureaucrats will solve the country's energy problems and provide for our energy needs. No ambiguity here.

Charlie has cooled on warming, just as the American public has. Not even the current global warming séance and rodeo in Copenhagen has drawn Charlie out on warming or cap and trade. Jim Greer, Florida Republican Party Chairman and a Crist dogsbody, can't even remember Crist's cap and trade executive order.

At a Reagan Day dinner in Tampa in October, where from the podium Crist tried to convince the faithful there gathered that he was a lot like the beloved Gipper, Greer told me he "couldn't find where he (Crist) has ever said he supports cap and trade." A truly stunning remark. I wanted to take his knife and fork away from him before he hurt himself.

But back to Charlie. After a couple of weeks of re-writing his own history, claiming he never supported a disastrous policy when he did, and trying to deny he supported a policy that he had issued an executive order requiring, Crist then committed the following howler on Friday (be sure to be sitting down for this one).

While Crist was touring a medical facility at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, a reporter asked him when he might debate Marco Rubio. Governor Sunshine's answer: "I don't know that it would be worthwhile because I can't have any confidence in what he might say. One thing comes out of his mouth and another thing is his record. It's hard to have any confidence in what he says anymore."

Wow! We have a new NCAA record for chutzpah. If there were an Olympic event called the free-style knee-slapper, this one would retire the gold. For Charlie Crist to say this requires more brass than you'd find at a spittoon factory. I hope no one in the ward Charlie was touring had a bladder infection. They would have laughed themselves wet. 

If, as may well happen, Florida Republicans deconstruct Charlie before the August primary, thereby putting an end to his achievement-free political career, he clearly has a promising follow-on career in standup comedy. At least in this kind of work he could be funny on purpose. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.