The Charlie Watch

Charlie Crist Revises and Extends History

He's giving politics an extremely bad name.

By 2.17.14

UPI
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I’ve just abused hours reading Charlie Crist’s campaign screed, which carries the bulky and misleading title of, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat (Dutton). These are hours I will never get back and which could have been devoted to a useful purpose. (Flea-powdering the cat would have been more useful and more entertaining.) I made the sacrifice of reading this boring and dishonest brief for a boring and dishonest candidate so TAS regulars don’t have to. The things I do for love.

Campaign books are invariably boring and dishonest, revising history and portraying the subject of the book as a model of almost pre-lapsarian perfection. They exaggerate the candidate’s accomplishments, skills, and virtues (going so far as to invent some when none exist). They explain away his faults, airbrush his sins, finesse his inconsistencies, give him credit for everything good in living memory, blame his political opponents for everything that has gone wrong over the same period, and suggest in the strongest terms that the world would be a nearly perfect place if only the candidate were in charge of it. No surprise then that campaign books are not a big-selling genre (except for the Clinton books, which liberals proudly display on their coffee tables but, please believe me, have not read).

Crist’s book does all of these things, setting an NCAA record for platitudes and clichés along the way, but failing to deliver on the promise of its subtitle. We never really learn what Crist believes constitutes “extreme right,” or extreme right policies. Charlie complains continually in these pages of extremism in the Republican Party and of extreme right policies while never doing more than hinting at what they might be, which is convenient for Charlie because lots of Florida voters like conservative policies and don’t consider them extreme at all.

The first thing alert followers of Florida politics have to get around is the counter-intuitive idea that Charlie Crist is seeking statewide office in Florida again. Crist, the former Republican, former independent, is running against Republican governor Rick Scott for the office Crist voluntarily relinquished in 2010 to pursue a one-way ticket to Washington. This time he’s running as a Democrat, completing the political hat trick in less than four years. If he doesn’t win this year, perhaps the Whigs will let him run for something in 2016.

Even more counter-intuitive is Crist’s continuing popularity in Florida. He polls well in those approve/disapprove surveys. Though what voters who say they approve of him are approving of is a mystery, as he left no stamp on any Florida offices he has held save for truly impressive absentee records. He even holds leads over Scott in most “who-would-you-vote-for” polls, though the Republican campaign against him has yet to begin.

Crist, whose nickname could be “Lucky,” is most fortunate in his opponents this year. With his name ID and superficial charm, he should easily get past Nan Rich, an obscure, off-the-rack, South Florida liberal in the Democratic primary. Rick Scott has been a pretty effective conservative governor, holding the line on taxes and size of government in Florida. He has resisted committing the state to the pricy boondoggle of high-speed rail (the highest speed in most of these projects nationwide being the speed at which taxpayers’ money is frittered away). But alas, he is a hopeless politician.

Scott is sort of strange looking, has an odd affect and quirky pacing when speaking, and is often tongue-tied when trying to make his point before microphones or TV cameras. As a result, though he has done most of what he promised he would do while running for the governorship in 2010, his popularity numbers have never been good. He may be the only guy in Florida who could lose to Charlie Crist. Just as Charlie Crist is probably the only guy who could lose to Rick Scott. This may be the first Florida governor’s race where nobody votes.

The shellacking Crist took in his 2010 race for a U.S. Senate seat, courtesy of Marco Rubio, would have convinced most sensible politicians, at least those capable of being embarrassed, to turn to legitimate work. But not our Charlie. Like his new political hero, Barack Obama, Crist has had only the briefest contact with the private sector and knows naught about legitimate work. Politics and campaigning are all he knows. And his lack of accomplishment in the offices he has won — Florida Senate, Florida Secretary of Education, Florida Attorney General, Florida Governor — demonstrates he knows little or nothing of governing.

Crist, who climbed the greasy pole of Florida politics all the way to the governor’s mansion as a conservative Republican, declined to run again for this office that he could probably have won in favor of seeking an open U.S. Senate seat. He could not out-conservative Marco Rubio in the 2010 Republican Senate primary, though he tried hard enough. So when he fell way behind Rubio he left the Republican Party to run as an independent, adopting liberal positions to play to the part of the electorate he thought he had a chance with. Conservative Republicans, a majority of Rs in Florida, had made another choice. In November of that year, Rubio beat Crist by 19 points.

After being kept as a well-paid pet by a large Florida personal injury law firm since shortly after the 2010 election debacle (for Crist), Crist now wants his old job as governor back and is seeking this office as a Democrat, with all the politically correct leftist positions it takes to make Valarie Jarrett and her boss swoon. Positions that are not just modifications, but 180-degrees out from what Crist — who was once so conservative on the issue of crime he was called “Chain Gang Charlie” — had whooped up for years.

All this party changing, the thorough reversal of every position he has held on every position of interest in our political polemics, and his renewed interest in a job he once held but left in favor of seeking another office, would require a good deal of explaining on Crist’s part. Unfortunately, all this opportunistic and cynical maneuvering requires a far more credible explanation than Crist and his ghostwriter have come up with in this pathetic book.

The constant theme of this attempt to perfume his lack of accomplishment and ideological and party fecklessness is that the Republican Party of late has become extreme, rigid, intolerant, racist, sexist, homophobic, and probably laced with trans fats. On the other hand, our hero, Charlie Crist, has remained pure, just LUVS Florida and Floridians, and asks nothing more of the world and of his God but that he be allowed to devote his every waking minute to making the lives of Floridians better. (Those who suffer from hyperglycemia should avoid this book for medical reasons.) Borrowing from his political better, Crist croons that, “I haven’t left the Republican Party — the Republican Party left me.”

The inconvenient truth — inconvenient for Crist — is that this fanciful attempt at exculpation is nonsense. The Republican Party has hardly changed at all since Crist was elevated beyond his level of competence to the Florida governor’s mansion. What he’s calling extreme now differs not a whit from what he was preaching on the campaign trail as recently as the spring of 2010. It’s Crist himself who has changed — pushing the normal policy fluidity most politicians engage in to extreme lengths.

Crist has gone from being a critic of Obamacare as a government overreach to being a fierce defender of it. He has gone from calling for accountability on the part of government schoolteachers to supporting anything the education industry and teachers unions want. He has gone from support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to support of the homosexual political movement’s agenda. He’s gone from being an unqualified supporter of the Second Amendment to supporting all manner of restrictions on gun purchases and ownership. A former supporter of the trade embargo on Cuba, he is now in favor of lifting it. He has changed his position on drilling for oil off Florida’s coast so many times there is insufficient room here to chart his triangulations, but, for now, he’s against it. The former Chain Gang Charlie, who at one time would have had criminals fed to the dogs if it would please Florida voters, now wants felons’ voting rights automatically restored as soon as they complete their sentences. There are more examples of how Crist the ugly Republican moth became a beautiful Democratic butterfly. But you get the drift.

As those old Starkist Tuna commercials taught us to say, “Sorry. Charlie.” All of Crist’s protestations of how he was a fiscally tight-fisted, pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-gun, pro-freedom, anti-crime, Ronald Reagan clone didn’t convince Republican primary voters in 2010 that Charlie was one of theirs. If Emperor Charlie, wearing his new all-left, all-the-time clothes, is able to convince Florida voters that his most recent political persona is the real one and thereby gets his old job back, then Florida voters and the ease with which they can be hustled becomes the story.

Back in the day when we were confronted with yet another “New Nixon,” we could take comfort in knowing that it was the same old Tricky Dick behind the media stories. With Charlie it should by now be obvious that there is no old or new Crist. There’s just whatever his last focus group told him he should say and be. With Charlie, as Gertrude Stein said of her hometown of Oakland, “There’s no there, there. (No nasty notes from Oakland readers please — Gertrude said it, not me.) Whether or not Oakland deserves this snarky description, it surely fits Charlie. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.