Campaign Crawlers

McCain Pitching for the Other Side Again?

He likes turncoat Charlie Crist's chances against the Republican incumbent.

By 8.1.13

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John McCain has taken time off from badgering Republicans to support comprehensive immigration “reform” (aka eliminating America’s southern border), and talking about how he wants to cooperate with the Obama administration, to whoop up Charlie Crist’s chances of once again becoming Florida’s absentee governor.

McCain told the Tampa Bay Times that he thinks Crist -- the former Reagan Republican, former independent, and now Obama Democrat -- would be “very competitive” if he runs against incumbent Republican Florida governor Rick Scott. (Actually, there’s no if about it. All Crist knows is politics and campaigning. He has no other skills or interests. He will run.)

It’s hard to argue with this. Scott has been middling good on policy during his term, which began in 2010. But he’s an almost incoherent speaker, utterly charmless, and has consistently racked up polls in the sure-loss range since he’s been in office. Someone chosen randomly out of the Florida phone directory would probably be competitive against Scott.

“There are a lot of people who thought he (Crist) did a good job when he was governor,” McCain told Times reporter Alex Leary.

There’s no indication Leary asked McCain to elaborate on this. He should have. Who are these people? Crist missed so many days of work as governor, and had so little effect on the political course of the state during his four years, his one term provided evidence that Florida can survive for years without a governor. He spent the last year and a half of his term running for the U.S. Senate after saying he could best help Florida by serving in Washington (though supplying few details on how a guy not executing the duties of U.S. Senator could be of any more help to Floridians than a guy not executing the duties of governor).

So it’s hard to imagine what the folks who say Crist did a “good job” as governor could possibly be referring to. He did remarkably little governing over four years, but never failed to cash his state paycheck. It’s worth pointing out that Crist was about as inattentive as Florida’s Secretary of Education, and then as Attorney General, before not engaging the governor’s job. 

Perhaps what McCain meant by doing a "good job" was that Governor Crist endorsed McCain for president in late January of 2008, days ahead of that year’s Republican presidential primary. McCain won that one (see photo, above) and the nomination.  

Crist, the emptiest suit I’ve encountered in almost a half century of covering politics, is shameless in adopting the appropriate policies to suit his new political incarnations. In the space of three years, Crist has gone from being a mainline conservative preaching against big government to a leftist red-hot who anguishes over the “extremism” of the Republican Party. Politically, Charlie can turn on a dime and give you eleven cents change. Historians, actuaries, political consultants, or Talmudic scholars cannot isolate a single position on any political issue Charlie has not held at some point in his long and shabby career. If Crist doesn’t succeed in re-capturing the governor’s office in 2014, I fully expect him to make another run for it in 2018, perhaps as a Druid and with positions to suit.

But Republicans can’t ham it up too much at Charlie’s expense. They hardly have a dream candidate. Scott spent a fair fraction of his personal fortune in his 2010 campaign to defeat a weak Democrat Candidate (Alex Sink) in a big Republican year. He won by the estimation of a hair. He’ll have money again in 2014. The Republican establishment money machine will see to that. But it may not be enough.

Scott has done some good things. He’s held the line on taxes. He said no to the mega-boondoggle of high-speed rail. He’s said the right things about a host of issues. But he’s so lame in the way he makes his case, even when he has a sound case, that his polls have remained some of the lowest of any governor in the lower 48. He’s terrible on camera, and little better in person. I believe it was George Will who first made this comparison. But if I may borrow and point out that watching the often tongue-tied Scott try to make his case before the microphones is a little like watching a bear try to peel a grape. He may eventually get it done. But it’s damned painful to watch.

Scott is just a bad politician (though he was competent and successful in the private sector and seems by any reasonable measure to be a thoroughly decent fellow). And of late he’s been heeding political consultants who’ve convinced him to change his former positions on such as Medicaid expenditures. They’ve also convinced him to truckle to the education industry as abjectly as any Democrat would. And for reasons he won’t disclose he’s continuing to tolerate a bunch of Al Sharpton lay-abouts defacing the hallways night and day outside of Scott’s Tallahassee office to protest the Zimmerman verdict. These things will cost Scott support among conservatives who’ve stuck with him even when he’s proven to be politically tone-deaf.

Because of these inept attempts to move his poll numbers out of the dead politician walking range before next year, I’ve been forced to add Scott’s name to the lengthy list of Republicans and nominal conservatives who don’t understand, even though it has been demonstrated time and again, that Republicans can’t win votes with Democrat talking points. Voters who are persuaded by Democrat talking points will ALWAYS vote for the real Democrat. (Though if this one turns out to be between Scott and Crist, and it increasingly appears it will, it will be more than usually tricky to determine who the real Democrat is.)

So if the Democrats can find a way not to put up Charlie Crist, who carries more baggage than your average 747, I like their chances in 2014. If it turns out to be Scott vs. Crist, it will be an inept politician against a preposterous one. In America, preposterous has had a better run than charmless competence. You could look it up. Too bad for Florida.

The quirky McCain, a former Republican candidate for president but barely more reliable than Crist, told the Times that he wasn’t sure that he could campaign for Republican Scott against Crist, who is, for the nonce, an Obama true believer. This comes as no surprise to Republican McCain-watchers, many of whom are searching this morning’s day-after-the-baseball-trading-deadline newspapers in hopes of news that McCain was dealt to the Democrats for a case of Gatorade and a ball-girl to be named later.

Photo: UPI

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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.