Even before this afternoon’s rally, where Florida Governor Charlie Crist is all but certain to announce that he will exit the Republican party and seat his state’s open U.S. Senate seat as an independent, the candidate’s official website featured a telling frontpage headline: “Register to Vote/Switch Parties.”
Crist, though barely a moderate in any traditional sense, has always tried to appeal across lines of partisanship and, to some extent, ideology.
That used to be acceptable within the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, who went out of his way to champion a “big tent” vision of the Grand Old Party, and even of George W. Bush, who backed the reelection of moderate, labor-friendly Republicans such as Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in primaries with conservative challengers.
But the big tent has been folded, as Crist learned when the popular governor was scorned by rightwingers for seeking stimulus federal funding for his state and even — horrors — embracing a Democratic president who had come to deliver those funds.
So Crist is leaving the Grand Old Party, declaring that: “Our political system is broken.”
To the cheers of supporters, he declared that he would run as an independent in November’s Senate race because: “I believe in democracy and the right to choose.”
That’s a good line. But this is not about believing in democracy. This is about the fact that Crist cannot win a Republican primary because the party base thinks he is too liberal, too moderate or, at the least, too bipartisan to be their candidate.
Crist is no liberal in the tradition of Republicans such as former New York Senator Jacob Javits, former New Jersey Senator Clifford Case or former Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker — let alone former New York Mayors Fiorello La Guardia or John Lindsay.
Crist is not even a moderate in the tradition, say, of a former Massachusetts Governor William Weld or one of the two remaining sort-of moderates in the Republican Senate Caucus, Maine outliers Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
Crist is best understood as a ideological inheritor of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, or, perhaps, former President George Herbert Walker Bush. For instance, Crist supports capital punishment and gun rights and opposes same-sex marriage and, though he opposes overturning Roe-v-Wade, he has appointed anti-choice jurists to the Florida Supreme Court.
That’s hardly the profile of a social moderate in any realistic sense.
But it has been the profile of a winner. Crist has been repeatedly elected in Florida, to the legislature and as the state’s
education commissioner, attorner general and governor. In good years for Republicans and bad, he has been the party’s standard-bearer and frequently its unexpected winner.