TAMPA — I like to include exclusive breaking news with my analysis when possible. In this spirit, my sources within the Charlie Crist for Senate campaign inform me that press secretary Danny Kanner will soon have a new title– Vice President for Clarifications.
Florida governor Crist (I-Charlie) changes his positions on major issues so often and so rapidly, Kanner’s state-of-the-art office must be equipped with a Cray supercomputer, four kinds of slide-rules, Cue cards (for use when Crist is asked about his positions by the media), an entire wall of loose-leaf focus-groups reports, twelve cases of Ginkoba (to help Charlie remember what he said day before yesterday), two Harvard psychologists and a SWAT team of pollsters on speed-dial, a Magic 8-Ball, a wind-sock, and a mood ring.
Excessive you say? Not at all. Young Kanner must help his politically peripatetic candidate remember from day to day what he believes, or, more to the point, what he says he believes. A Herculean task, as Crist has held more positions than you can find in the presidential platforms of both major parties, The Joy of Sex, and the Kama Sutra combined.
John Kerry’s famous political dictum, “I was for that until I was against it,” is alive and well in Crist’s playbook. Kanner, who studied political communications on a Ron Zeigler scholarship (for younger readers, Tricky Dick’s press secretary), is nimble enough to explain how Crist’s core principles of three months ago, and attendant positions on specific issues, are all “inoperative.” He says he takes strength for his difficult ministry from Lincoln’s adage: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and dazzle the rest of them with footwork.”
Those paying the slightest attention to Crist’s opera buffa campaign know that Crist, depending on the political needs of the moment, has in a remarkably short time held every available position on the major issues of the day. A former scrub quarterback in college (just behind the head cheerleader on the depth chart), Crist has run left to right to left, with various oblique feints, on: Obama’s “stimulus” slush fund, oil drilling off Florida’s coast, gays in the military, tying public school teacher’s pay to performance, ObamaCare, left-geek U.S. Supreme Court justices (against Sonia Sotomayor when he was a Republican, for Elena Kagan as an independent), right to life, etc. (list shortened for space considerations).
Before leaving the party he had spent his entire political life in — first run for office in 1986 — Crist was a RINO. But conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who has run a consistent and unambiguously conservative campaign, was Florida Republicans’ clear choice in the Republican primary, so Crist declared himself an independent in April.
Crist is now up against Rubio and Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek, a consistent and unambiguous liberal. Trying to stake out a position amongst all this clarity, Crist has decided that on the important matters facing Florida and the nation he feels very strongly both ways. He will, he repeats unctuously on the campaign trail, do the work of the people, not of the party bosses. He will, we’re assured, take the best ideas from both parties. He won’t even say which party he’ll caucus with if he wins the Senate seat.
While Rubio is running from the right and Meek from the left, Crist is attempting to run from above. It worked for a while. For a few weeks after Crist went party-less he held a small lead in most polls. But this strategy is a loser in a year when voters are looking for authenticity. In the abstract, the notion of taking the best ideas from left and right, from Republican and Democrat, has appeal. But when candidates try to translate this to specific issues, to tell voters what they would do if elected, it quickly becomes incoherent.
Both Rubio and Meek are hitting on Crist for his inconsistency and rank opportunism. While Crist fishes for Democratic votes with newly minted leftish positions on most issues, a new Meek ad shows Crist in the recent past praising George Bush as “a leader of courage and conviction,” saying how impressed he was with Sarah Palin, and describing himself as a Jeb Bush (Florida’s former and still popular governor) Republican. “I’m about as conservative as you can get; I’m a pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax Republican,” Crist says in the ad.
This has to be disorienting to Florida Democrats who Crist is trying to woo, and a real knee-slapper for Florida Republicans who know this doesn’t come within a mile of describing Crist. As Florida voters watch Crist switch 180 degrees on issue after issue, his poll numbers sink. Rubio holds a double-digit lead now in polls of likely voters. Meek, who has run a poor third since the race became a three-way, is gaining on Crist and will likely catch and pass him.
In 2010, “I feel very strongly both ways” is not a slogan any candidate can ride into the U.S. Senate. Kanner can clarify his little heart out, but it will not avail.