Monday, May 3, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Reason on the Right: How Charlie Crist Went from Presidential Contender to Party Pariah

My voter’s registration card identifies my party affiliation as “No Party Affiliation”;  however, I do lean Democratic.  However, in the 2006 Florida gubernatorial election, I supported Republican Charlie Crist over his Democratic opponent, Jim Davis.

I saw in Crist perhaps what many saw in him.  I saw in Crist perhaps that which prompted pundits, prognosticators, and Republican Party leaders alike to not so long ago herald him as a possible future presidential contender.

I found him to be a man of principles who had the courage to stand on those principles.  Tall, handsome, and perpetually tanned, Crist was a consummate politician, a politician’s politician, who had a way about him.  He seemed to make reasoned, thoughtful decisions based on what was best for those he served rather than what was most politically expedient.

Yes, Crist was on the rise, and it seemed only logical that the senate was the next step in his assent.  But then the 2008 presidential election happened.

Crist’s first mis-step was to not support ex New York City major Rudy Gulliani in the Republican Party primaries as Gulliani evidently assumed he would.  Maybe he realized  that Gulliani had no substance, or as Vice-president Biden once quipped, every sentence he made contained a subject, a verb, and 9/11, but nevertheless, in the end he threw his support behind eventual Republican primary winner, John McCain which made him more than a few enemies.

However, by the time the John McCain campaign finally found its way to Florida, it had devolved into a traveling circus of sorts and seemed doomed, so Crist seemed to tactfully and tactically kept his distance.  He added to his already growing list of enemies by not throwing the full weight of his influence in Florida behind the McCain campaign.

But the beginning of the end came when he embraced President Obama and openly accepted funds from the stimulus plan, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  He did not put on a show of publically repudiating the stimulus plan and rejecting the funds, but privately accepting the funds and taking full credit for whatever good they did as many other prominent Republican governors did, particularly those angling for their own run at the presidency.

And just as an aside, I cannot see for the life of me what is wrong with a governor of a state in the United States showing deference to the President of the United States.

Finally, he vetoed Florida Senate Bill Six that would have potentially ruined the state educational system in Florida, a horrendous bill ghost written by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and pushed through by a Republican state senate.

Little by little, Republican Party leaders threw their support behind his Republican Party primary opponent, Marco Rubio, until a little trickle became a flood.  Finally, significantly behind in the polls and pushed into a corner, Crist announced he would withdraw from the primary and run as an Independent.  Curiously, though, polls show that with or without Crist in the race, Rubio probably cannot win.

However, Crist is being referred to now as being without principle and as an opportunist, but I would submit that at this very moment, Crist is perhaps one of very few Republicans exhibiting principles of any kind.  Thus far throughout this whole “uprising” from the right, Crist has continued to rise above the rhetoric , the questionable decisions, and the untenable positions to make decisions and take positions based in reason for the best interests of his state.

But this is what the right does not realize in Florida and perhaps throughout the country.  Heightened, hyperbolic rhetoric might suffice now in solidifying the support of the base, but as the general elections proceed, it will not be enough. 

Right now in Florida, more voters are registered as Independents than as Democrats and Republicans.  And this is the crucial block of voters that any successful campaign will have to attract.  However, as candidates depend less on appealing to the Republican Party base and more appealing to those independents and moderates, they must be able to outline tenable plans and positions which I am yet to hear.  The rallying cry and mantra from the right now seems to be “I will vanquish Obama and his cronies, and beat back big government” without indication as to how this feat will be accomplished.

But soon the layers of unreason will be slowly peeled away, one after another until it is revealed that beneath it all, the emperor is wearing no clothes.  By drumming its best and brightest out of the party, the GOP hinders its quest for relevancy now and in the future.  But I think that in the end, Charlie Crist will have the last laugh, but at whose expense?
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