If you would have asked me a few months ago about the prospects of Crist leaving the GOP, I would have said this is yet another sad reminder of the Republican Party's tilt to the far right. I would have cast Marco Rubio, the Crist's conservative opponent in the Florida Senate race as the evil conservative out to destroy all that is good and right with a moderate, conservative Republicanism.
But now, I'm not so sad about Crist's decision. Don't get me wrong: I am concerned about the ongoing "purging" that is taking place within the GOP. I don't like how a certain ideological rigidity has taken over. I think that there should be a moderate faction within the Republican party.
But I want a principled moderate or centrist Republicanism, not one that seems based on changing political fortunes. The problem is Crist tends to be somewhat of an opportunist, willing to shift to the prevailing winds that will assure him victory.
On April Fool's day, Ross Douthat wrote on his blog about Crist and how many liberals have mischaracterized him. At first read, it seemed like yet another post from Douthat bashing moderates. A second reading though, revealed that Crist was not the martyr I made him out to be. As Douthat states in a reply to writer E. J. Dionne:
E.J. Dionne’s latest column is a classic of a well-worn liberal genre: He heaps praise on the “nonpartisan, non-ideological” Charlie Crist, with his “sunny” attitude and his “buoyant moderation,” and bemoans the rising tide of right-wing extremism that’s going to cost Crist the chance to be the next Republican senator from Florida.
Notably absent is any defense of Crist’s actual record as governor, which has been “moderate” in the worst sense of the word: Fiscally irresponsible on taxes and spending alike, and eager to use bailout dollars to delay the hard choices that Crist’s own profligacy created. Absent, as well, is more thorough accounting of why so many Florida Republicans have turned on the once-popular governor.
Douthat links to a piece by Reihan Salam that shows that Crist doesn't come close to what one would hope a moderate Republican would act when it comes to fiscal matters: in a fiscally conservative manner. In the article, Salam points to an interview Crist gave to the Miami Herald where he lauded the stimulus package passed last year. In Crist's eyes, the state didn't have to worry about raising taxes and could even more money than what was previously planned. As Salam notes, Crist used the stimulus to fund 12 percent of the state budget. He also vetoed a plan by state Republicans to make some painful spending cuts and instead cut taxes, paving the road for a fiscal nightmare down the road.
If you want another example of how Crist has created a potential fiscal trainwreck in the Sunshine State, read Eli Lehrer's piece in Frum Forum.
An article in Salon gives an even clearer picture of a political opportunist. It shows a guy that changes his position to fit the moment:
In 2008, during the period when he was under consideration for the McCain ticket, he abruptly withdrew his previous opposition to offshore drilling, a change that brought him into line with McCain's views.
As a state senator in the mid-'90s, Crist's record on criminal justice issues was hard-line enough to earn him the nickname "Chain Gang Charlie." He also backed a bill that required convicted criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. While running for attorney general in 2002, he sought to gain a political dividend from these positions by running what the St. Petersburg Times described as a "dark, harsh ad that features violent criminals."
Yet by 2007, Crist was arguing for the restoration of voting rights to felons and stating, "I believe in my heart that everyone deserves a second chance. They deserve an opportunity to get on with productive lives."
After reading all this, I've come to the conclusion that Crist isn't some poor centrist getting bullied by mean conservatives, but a political chameleon that was done in by his own smarts.
There's a lesson here for moderate Republicans. We can't simply support someone because they follow a certain checklist of our issues (gay rights, abortion rights, environment). If they can't govern worth two cents, then they don't deserve our vote. We have to support people who can govern competently and have values that they try to adhere to, and not just latch themselves to whatever or whoever is popular.
I don't know if Rubio is worthy of my support, but I know that I won't be supporting Crist in his Independent bid. A moderate has to have some values.