Campaign Crawlers

Republican Establishment Strikes Again

You know the party is clueless when Michael Steele turns out to be more reliable than Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn.

By 5.19.09

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TAMPA-- Ronald Reagan taught Republicans some priceless lessons on how to succeed politically. Lessons about both ideology and style. The old cowpoke showed us how to solve some of the nation's problems with conservative principles and policies, and did it in a cheery, upbeat way that left voters happy and confident about America.

When the Gipper left office in January of 1989, the Republican establishment remembered these vital lessons. For about an hour and a half.

George H.W. Bush ran in 1988 on a pledge to be Reagan III. But he soon reverted to his own form. We all remember what then happened to "Read my lips, no new taxes." And the Federal Register under George the First soon regained the elephantine heft it sported before Reagan put the brakes on federal regulation. Since then Republican poobahs and money-men have supported countless RINOs (often against solid conservative candidates), careerists with no philosophy or soul, and other me-toos who gave us a Republican president and a Republican Congress better at spending than even the Democrats and no detectable progress on any conservative social issue. This was the lot that was routed in '06 and again in '08.

Democrats decry to every open mike they can find how conservative the Republican Party has become. If only it were so.

Considering recent history, it should come as no surprise that with what promises to become an exciting 2010 Senate primary race shaping up in Florida between a substance-free, moderate-to-liberal governor and a conservative former speaker of the Florida House, the Republican establishment has lined up to give the liberal governor a big, wet tongue kiss, and has not so subtly tried to elbow the conservative aside. These guys clearly miss Arlen Specter already, and are searching for his replacement.

They think they've found him in moderate-to-liberal Florida governor, Charlie Crist, who campaigned in his own state for our rookie president's bank-busting goodie package, aka the stimulus bill. Crist has tried to get the Florida Legislature to adopt a carbon cap and trade program and to force Florida utilities into generating an unreasonable percentage of their electricity using "renewable fuels," the kind that excite environmentalists' erogenous zones but exist in but trifling amounts and are bloody expensive. He also wants California-like auto emissions standards that would cost a packet but provide a negligible improvement in Florida's air.

You'll never hear an encouraging word from Crist on any conservative social issue. He's pro-abortion and thinks marriage-like legal arrangements between homosexuals are fine. He recently put a liberal Democrat on the Florida Supreme Court.

In Crist's speeches, conservatives will wait in vain to hear any of their principles promoted. What they hear are endless lullabies about "bipartisanship," "diversity," and other warm-sounding, non-sequiturs from the Democratic hymn book. These are just the most actionable of Crist's sins against conservative principles.

No matter. Less than an hour after Crist threw his hat in the ring last week, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican Senatorial Campaign head John Cornyn of Texas both endorsed him. In Florida, Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer endorsed Crist. These quick endorsements came in spite of the fact that national Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele has said Republicans who've supported the president's stimulus plan shouldn't themselves be supported, and in spite of the fact that there's another very solid Republican candidate in the Florida race. Steele said Sunday that in spite of McConnell's and Cornyn's premature coronation of Crist, the RNC would stay out of the Florida race until after the primary. 

The "other guy" clueless Republican leaders would like to ignore is Cuban-American attorney Marco Rubio of Miami. In eight years in the Florida House he compiled a conservative voting record and has been a frequent speaker across the state on issues such as holding the line on taxes, limited government, and the importance of the family. He hit these themes and others Friday afternoon at a meet-and-greet at Crabby Bill's seafood restaurant in Tampa.

"We're scheduled for the largest deficit in the history of the world," Rubio said of the stimulus package Crist fancies. Rubio was critical of the recent automaker bailouts, saying, "The jobs will be gone and we'll still owe the money. Washington should just get out of the way." On Obama-Care, "We shouldn't put the government between patients and their doctors, or do anything to increase costs. There are free market solutions to health care."

Rubio was critical of politics by poll and focus group, and critical of the Republican Party's recent melancholy record on limited government and spending.

"America hasn't solved a major problem in 20 years. That's because politics now isn't about solving problems, it's about getting elected. Leadership and popularity are not the same thing."

Rubio not only has a message, but he's enthusiastic and deft in putting that message across. He gives every appearance of a conviction politician who knows what he wants to accomplish in office. His remarks went over well with the 120 or so who gathered during working hours to hear the candidate the McConnells and Greers of the world would as soon Republicans ignore. Many on hand were members of Central Florida Republican executive committees where there is considerable resentment about Greer's attempt to announce an end to the Republican senatorial race before it starts.

In recent Republican executive committee meetings in Hillsborough (Tampa), Pinellas (St. Petersburg-Clearwater), and nearby Pasco and Hernando counties, Rubio's campaign has generated interest, including lots of folks volunteering to volunteer. The Hillsborough committee passed a resolution objecting to Greer's attempts to get the state party behind Crist. There have been similar rumblings in Republican groups across the state. 

The Republican muftis doubtless like Crist because he has the appearance of a winner. After two years in office Crist still has approval ratings in the sixties. He's about as popular among Democrats and independents as among Republicans, largely because he often sounds like a Democrat. This is the reason Crist gets better press treatment than most Republicans. If the election were next week, Charlie would likely beat Rubio and any of the Democrats likely to seek that party's nomination. Of course, the race isn't next week.

Charlie is a charming fellow who knows how to work a room, and has floated from one Florida office to another on an engaging smile, a few populist bromides, a great tan, and the ability to convince voters he has their best interests at heart and knows how to make their lives better. He is in fact empty political calories. He's accomplished next to nothing in the many Florida offices he's held, none of them for long before he was seeking the next office. The only thing he's worked hard at, or seems really committed to, is keeping himself in office.

But populists often fall quickly when voters finally discover there's no there, there. This may happen with Charlie. Florida has serious problems about which Crist has done little in his two years as governor. So the muftis' sure thing of today could be problematic a year from now. And a candidate with real conservative principles could look pretty appealing in a state that has traditionally supported conservative candidates, the deliriums of the recent presidential race notwithstanding.

During the war Dwight Eisenhower said that De Gaulle, supposedly on the same team, caused him more trouble than Mussolini did. Right now Republican "leaders" are causing Rubio more trouble than the Democrats. Looking at his record through the post-war years, le Grand Charlie never did figure out what team he was on. Perhaps Jim Greer still can.

Listen up Jim, this isn't complicated. The sequence goes in this wise: primary first -- then close behind a candidate. Not the other way around. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.