Alert Alaska: Charlie Crist is goin’ rogue! The Florida governor is set to announce tomorrow at 5 p.m. that he’ll continue running for the U.S. Senate, but as a non-affiliated candidate, not a member of the Republican party (hat-tip: Kathy Riordan). That’s extremely convenient news, as the Republican party was looking quite likely to not to vote for Charlie Crist in its upcoming primary.
This is exciting in the same way that a tie in the electoral college would be exciting: in a purely political science nerd kind of way. Think of the ramifications! All of Crist’s campaign workers, many of whom have had their salaries paid in part by the national party or GOP PACs, now must choose: candidate loyalty or party uber alles? Those bold Republicans who’ve endorsed Crist in the past must also choose: Did they mean what they said? Mitch McConnell said not that long ago:
“Charlie Crist has been a tireless advocate for the citizens of Florida by fighting to lower taxes, reduce government spending and enhance the quality of life for all Floridians. Decisions are being made every day in Washington that have a direct impact upon the lives of all Americans and we need Charlie Crist in the U.S. Senate to ensure that those decisions will benefit the citizens of Florida.”
Does the minority leader now want to vote against a man whose very presence in the Senate would, in his words, benefit the citizens of a state with an enormous number of electoral votes? Has he discovered something that would change his mind about Charlie Crist?
No one, of course, is going to be honest about this. McConnell will pull his endorsement, as will the Republican National Committee’s Senate PAC, and they will both say that they’re just following “the will of the Florida people.” Charlie Crist, in leaving the GOP, will say the same thing. Who’s right?
The truth is Crist hasn’t changed, and neither has McConnell. What’s changed is Crist’s position in the race: he’s a loser.So Mitch McConnell’s issue with Charlie Crist isn’t that he’s moderate — it’s that he’s not going to win the primary. And Charlie Crist’s problem with the GOP isn’t that they’ve left him behind — it’s that they disagree on the pressing matter of whether he’d make a better senator than Marco Rubio.
The weirdest thing about any independent run is the way that everyone — the candidate, the media, the staff, the voters — overlook the most ironic element of the whole thing. We’re all going to take up the Independent label for Crist as soon as he declares it for himself. Yet hardly any independent candidate is really wholly independent of a party. Crist got all of his name recognition and most of his political funding thus far through the Republican Party. Unless he radically changes his positions in the next few days — doubtful — he’s not truly a non-affiliated candidate, just out there, being independent, thinking his own thoughts. He’s a guy who wants to go to Washington, D.C. and caucus with the Republican minority. There are still dues to be paid in order to do that, dues that will include voting for Republican programs and against Democratic initiatives. Senator Crist, in D.C., will be a Republican Except in Name.
To say that Charlie Crist is independent, just like saying Joe Lieberman is independent, is an insult to the word “independent.” It doesn’t mean anything except that he briefly saw an advantage to changing a letter beside his name on a ballot.
Charlie Crist is a pro-stimulus, pro-health care, pro-education environmentalist who’s unpopular with people who want more teachers fired and fewer taxes on the wealthy. There’s a word for people who vote like that and believe like that, Governor, and the word isn’t “independent.” It’s “Democrat.” (And sure, he’s pro-gun and pro-life, but have you met Ben Nelson?). True political courage would be to admit not that you’re opportunistically trying to find a way to have your cake and eat it, too; it would be to admit that you’ve never fit in the party you claimed, your views have changed the further into office you’ve gone, and you’d like a chance to make things right.
The “independent” label should mean something. So, probably, should the outright scorn of your current party.