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Could Crist bolt?

PH2010020102131.jpgThe big political news today is that Florida's Charlie Crist might be readying to leave the Republican Party and run for Florida Senate as an independent or a Democrat. That would be a huge coup for Democrats.

The best possible storyline for them going into the 2010 election is that the Republican Party's apparatus has been captured by extremists and ideologues. If Crist leaves -- which will follow Arlen Specter's defection and the Republican mess in New York's 23rd District -- that'll go a long way towards cementing the impression that the modern GOP is no place for moderates.

Conversely, it would be bad for Democrats -- and I'd say for the country -- if Crist simply loses to Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. The better conservatives get at mounting effective primary challenges against moderate Republicans, the more impossible it is for moderate Republicans serving in Congress to act like anything but hardline conservatives. The result isn't party discipline so much as ideological rigidity, and it ensures that compromise on pretty much anything will be totally impossible. The only way to stop that trend is to convince Republicans it's bad for them: New York's 23rd already went for a Democrat, and now if Specter leaves and wins, and Crist leaves and wins, that'll really discredit the effectiveness of the primary approach at electing conservative alternatives.

Photo credit: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  February 26, 2010; 11:19 AM ET
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EZRA - Please clarify something for me: How would Crist, should he choose to switch parties, be assured his spot as the Dem nominee? Wouldn't he have to win the Dem primary? Is the Dem field weak or would the other Dem possibles bow out?

As Arlen Spector shows us, flipping parties does NOT assure you a spot primary victory.

Posted by: nisleib | February 26, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse


The Dem field here is very week. Let me put it this way...Crist has a national profile after flirting with the VP candidacy. Marco Rubio has a national profile now, esp. after CPAC, for being Mr. Tea Party. The leading Democrat is Kendrick Meek (D-17)...someone who probably wouldn't be recognized by many outside of his district.

My sense is that, right now, Florida is very unfriendly to Dems.

Posted by: user435 | February 26, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, your journolist talking point is showing; just because you and your pals decided to get behind Crist now, you might want to be a little less obvious.

Crist (and Specter) will lose because they are not principled in any way; just like Lieberman they are concerned about their own survival, not a particular party's agenda or, for that matter, if what they're doing is good for the country. They're all the same--they'll let you put any party registration next to their name so long as it means they can get re-elected.

I seem to recall from somewhere, hmmm, perhaps a blog affiliated with the Washington Post . . . that referred to people like Lieberman as unprincipled or worse. Now, who could that have been....

Posted by: Philly213 | February 26, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Also- what are Florida's rules for elections in which no candidate gets a majority of the vote? Runoff? Or does the plurality take it?

Posted by: Quant | February 26, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

*Crist (and Specter) will lose because they are not principled in any way*

By all accounts, Crist did a good job serving the people of Florida. That strikes me as a positive, not a negative, and a reason that the people of Florida would want him to represent them in the Senate.

Posted by: constans | February 26, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

A better question is what is the Democratic party doing to hold onto its moderate and conservative members? Blue Dogs make up 22% of House membership and over 30% if you include the New Democrat Coalition.

Yet none are in the House leadership. Only two are Chief Deputy Majority Whips. Only two hold ranking positions on standing committees. Only one was invited to the HCR summit.

For a coalition of party members that are so numerous and were the reason why the party made huge gains in 2006 and 2008 to be in a majority position, it seems odd that they would hold more influence.

If health care reform teaches the Democrats anything, it should be that they can not ignore or assume moderate Democrats to follow Rep. Pelosi and progressivism blindly. It's time for the Democratic leadership to move towards the center to meet the rest of the party.

Posted by: cprferry | February 26, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

so just so i'm clear its bad for right based idealogues but OK for left based ones (progressives or socialists). So Bernie Sanders is good, VERY GOOD but Charlie Crist is BAD, very BAD.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 26, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

my bad i meant Marco Rubio is bad VERY BAD.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 26, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

If Crist runs as an indy, would he siphon votes off from Rubio or Meeks? Methinks the latter, as non-GOP moderates and whites would line up behind Crist but African-Americans would stay with Meeks. And given the enthusiasm for Rubio among the hardliners and Cuban-Americans, I think you're looking at a tea bagger in the Senate.

On the other hand, if Crist runs as a Dem, then he stands a real chance to win. But the reporting suggests he's not ready to make that leap.

Posted by: scarlota | February 26, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I'd say the difference between Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio is that Bernie Sanders is now and always has been an independent. Rubio, in contrast, is relying on the conservative lean of the Florida Republican Party electorate to win both an institutional backing to his candidacy and an imprimatur of respectability that would, if he were an independent, not be forthcoming based on his own character.

That said, I think the useful comparison is to the 2006 Connecticut election. Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary and ran as an independent - and won. The Republican Party tried to portray his defeat in the primary and probably victory in the general as a rejection of the "far left" . . . and yet in both 2006 and 2008, the "far left" won.

While I wish it were so that Crist's decision to run as an independent (I really don't see him running as a Democrat) would be seen as a rejection of the "far right," in all likelihood, it won't have any influence on national opinion of the Republican Party.

To the extent that the Democrats do try to make the case, the Republicans can point to Scott Brown, Mike Castle, and Mark Kirk.

In my view, if the Democrats are smart, yeah, they'll claim this is evidence that the Republican Party is in thrall to its most conservative members, but they'll take this as an opportunity akin to NY-23: they'll get a strong candidate for Senate - stronger than milquetoast Kendrick Meek, that's for sure - to challenge both Crist and Rubio and use the split on the right to improve their chances for victory in the general.

It might be a good race for one of the strong-but-for-the-environment Democrats that was elected to Congress in the 2008 wave; if they're unlikely to win their district, they could shift to a friendlier statewide race.

Or maybe Robert Wexler, who I've heard is awesome.

Posted by: dcamsam | February 26, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

This is meant as a serious, non-trolling comment: If Crist does switch to the Democrats, it creates an interestingly different context for the rumors about his sexual orientation. Can he get away with positioning himself as a conservative dem (as opposed to a liberal republican), and will he follow the pattern of other closeted lawmakers by using opposition to gay civil rights to support his conservative cred? Would Florida glbt activists be more or less apt to go after him? Would being on the dem's side make it easier for him to cast pro-glbt votes in the senate, or harder b/c it would invite gaybaiting attacks from the right? How problematic would it be for him if he came out during or after the campaign? Interesting to speculate.

My understanding is that earlier in his term, Crist was pretty popular in Florida and I wonder, were it not for the closet-baggage, if he would feel free enough to do less triangulating and capture more of left side of the spectrum to make up for what he's lost on the right to Rubio.

I was appalled when I found out that Meek was the democratic frontrunner; I had originally thought that as long as the dems could put up somebody credible, Rubio wasn't much threat. Rubio is a more attractive candidate that I'd thought (superficially anyway), and Meek is not credible.

Posted by: piminnowcheez | February 26, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The big political news? Interesting. Maybe it's just because I'm in NY, but it seems as though the David Paterson story is bigger. I mean, it is getting much more coverage on cable news and seems much more substantiated than the reporting on Crist as this point. (I'm referring to Paterson not running, and perhaps resigning, rather than the scandalous stuff.)

Posted by: gocowboys | February 26, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

gocowboys, but the Paterson story does not affect the ultimate outcome of who the next governor will be. The Paterson story is interesting from a titilation standpoint, but I don't think that many people thought that anyone other than Andrew Cuomo was going to be the next governor of New York State. So it's fascinating and salacious, but it doesn't really change anything, politically. A Crist party switch would actually change the election dynamic.

Posted by: constans | February 26, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse


Have you read Paul Krugman's, "The Conscience of a Liberal"?

I mean really read it, cover to cover, every word, not sort of just glazed through it.

I'm not saying you haven't; your work is amazing, but when I read this book, even though I knew much of it beforehand, it really brought home the importance of winning over the public to progressive ideas, of beating the Republican lies and disinformation, through try-and-see. Look at what E.J. Dionne said yesterday:

"Vice President Joe Biden argued that the debate over the White House’s health-care proposal was “a philosophical echo of the debate on Social Security.” That’s exactly right and important: Opponents of social security said provision for retirement was something best left to individuals and the private sector. Mandating that everyone contribute toward their retirement, they argued, was wrong. But once social security was passed, Americans did not want to turn back. It’s an enduring program. Many who oppose a government guarantee that everyone will have health coverage -- and that is where the Obama proposal will eventually lead -- fear the same result: once it’s passed, this program will be too popular to repeal."


A key point here is that Republican lies and disinformation are hard to beat, especially with how poor our press is (Look at the TV News coverage of the health care summit; Republicans would say false sound bites, Obama would decimate them in five or ten minute explanations, but the news wouldn't show it; they would only show sound bites, no debunking of Republican sound bites because that would take more than a sentence or few to show.)

But what really beats this propaganda is try-and-see. That really exposes the lies and disinformation in a way that the vast majority of the press never would; plus today's world is so complicated it takes a lot of time to learn about important issues, and unfortunately people are more busy than ever – if we ever needed our politicians to embrace the principle of representative government it's today.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 26, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

So, try-and-see is crucial today, and a huge enemy of try-and-see is the filibuster (and it's crucial that Democrats find a spine to pass important bills that are only unpopular due to disinformation, lies, and ignorance, but will be popular and permanent once passed).

In Krugman's, "The Conscience of a Liberal", you also see that try-and-see with the New Deal forced the Republicans to move far from their former extreme right positions just to survive, and pulled the parties closer together allowing an era of bipartisanship that's light years from what we have today.

Another important point for you is regarding finding time to read and learn, as opposed to just writing and speaking. It's a tough trade off. The more you write and speak, the more you can affect others positively. But the more you read and learn, the better you can write and speak.

It's a trade-off professors also face. I just counsel you to be careful, over the long run, to make sure you put away adequate time to read and learn. Obviously, at crucial decision times you want to spend a lot, or all, of your time influencing. But during other times, I encourage you to put aside a good chunk of time for learning. And a great way to get good bang for the time buck is to read, "The Conscience of a Liberal", if you haven't already.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 26, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

@constans, I somewhat agree, however this guarantees that Cuomo will be the next governor. This was not certain beforehand. A drawn out Dem primary could have been draining had Cuomo run against Paterson, and although Cuomo would have won, it would have made it more difficult to beat a Republican in 2010. Instead, now we have talk that Rick Lazio should consider getting into the race for Senate since Cuomo is a sure thing.

Anyway, it isn't as if Crist would beat Rubio running as a Dem or Independent even. And I don't buy into anything that Ezra is saying here. This is a good, competitive race between a moderate Republican and a conservative Republican in a pretty purple state. I think it would demonstrate something about the strength of conservatism if Rubio wins. A Republican party with no room for moderates? What, with Castle in Delaware, Brown in Mass., etc.? Nah. Rubio is a pretty mainstream conservative and his politics are closer to Jeb Bush's than Crist's.

Posted by: gocowboys | February 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

First a disclaimer, the vast number of eligible Republicans won't even bother to go to the polls on the day the Crist-Rubio fiasco will be decided. Don't know which of the two men is more shallow and vapid and devoid of real leadership qualities. And this is not to boost Democrats Meek or Ferre, equally craven and opportunistic political figures.

The point is this whole elaborate game of "electing" US Senators and all the other offices in this country is being played by fewer and fewer people. It takes awhile but most people will recognize a rigged game, and when they figure out the dice are loaded they're out.

Crist and Rubio are poster boys for an era that is over now in the US. The well groomed empty-headed spokesmodel for the people who actually wield power in this country (in their debate the other day, all one fool wanted to talk about was "trust" and the other fool countered with the "God" card). And as this country enters into an existential crisis they will run away like Evan Bayh did the other day in Indiana. That is, in fact, why Crist chose to run for US Senate at all, he sees D.C. as a safer place than the governor's mansion when the tsunami arrives here in Florida. Sink and McCollum are so clueless they actually don't know the next governor will be swept out to sea.

The Florida Legislature is filled with the Crist-Rubio type and so they will all be hiding under their desks during this year's legislative session. Watch the cowards posture and preen about everything except actually closing Florida's gaping budget deficit. Closing the hole would take the courage of taking on the wealthy, their masters, the men who let them have fun playing politics and even give them a credit card to use.

Crist and Rubio symbolize impotence and soon irrelevance.

Posted by: natturner | February 28, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: venerability | March 1, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

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