Opponents will have a big target should Crist jump into the Democratic primary for governor as expected. He was busy campaigning to be John McCain’s vice president and then for U.S. Senate as Florida’s economy cratered. His hand-picked chairman of the state GOP is in prison. He surrounded himself with sordid fundraisers now serving time as well.
Flip-flopping seems the weakest argument against Crist. If a politician flips or flops to the view of most Floridians, will they really punish him?
Besides, in the general election, Gov. Rick Scott’s flips on issues ranging from education funding to Medicaid expansion make him look much less convincing as a centrist than Crist.
And in a Democratic primary, announced candidate Nan Rich, the former state senator from Broward, and potential candidate Alex Sink of Hillsborough County, will have a hard time arguing that Crist is out of step with mainstream Democratic values.
As governor, Crist’s annual state of the state addresses typically drew roaring applause from Democratic lawmakers and near silence from Republicans.
At significant political risk, he saw long lines before the 2008 presidential election and extended early voting hours (helping Barack Obama). He dramatically streamlined the process for former prisoners to regain their voting and civil rights (earning a heartfelt thank you letter from Bill Clinton). He vetoed a GOP bill requiring women to pay for an ultrasound before receiving an abortion and vetoed a teacher merit pay bill reviled by the teachers’ union.
Democratic legislators variously hailed then-Republican Crist as the best Democratic governor Florida had seen in ages and Florida’s first African-American governor.
“I care a lot about who represents us as Democrats and people that share our values and people that we can count on to be consistent and to be firm about the way they represent us as Floridians,” Sink said of Crist last week, declaring him a disaster as a Democratic candidate.
When reminded that she had praised much of Crist’s record as governor, Sink stammered.
“This is how skilled he is. Truly, maybe he was a RINO — Republican In Name Only,” she said, before noting that Florida failed to prepare for long-expected cuts to NASA while Crist was governor.
No question. Amid the 2010 tea party wave, Crist was a RINO.
He grew up and began his career in Pinellas County, the birthplace of the Florida GOP. But when his father served as a Republican school board member in the 1970s and when Crist later began his political career in the 1990s, being a mainstream conservative Republican meant keeping taxes low, restraining the growth of government, protecting the environment and mostly eschewing social conservatism.
If ever there were a time when Crist was a fraud it was when, amidst tough Republican primary challenges from the right in 2006 and 2010, he played the staunch social conservative.
While repeatedly calling himself a “live and let live” Republican, his campaign sent mailers and robocalls touting his opposition to same-sex marriage and even at one point in 2006 he cheerfully told an inquiring priest he would sign a bill outlawing all abortions in Florida except when a mother’s life was at stake. He back-pedalled within hours.
Hardly a profile in courage.