Could Charlie Crist be Florida Democrats Wendell Willkie?

Editors Note: This article was run in August but due to popular demand and the timeliness of the issues related to this piece we are rerunning it today. 

The potential Florida Democrats nomination of Charlie Crist is not without precedent or parallel in the annals of American political history. Once upon a time a political party was so desperate to regain an office it long ago held and was in such a hyper-minority mode that it nominated someone associated with the other party who would after the election show a remarkable amount of disloyalty to his new party.

In 1940 The Republicans nominated for President, Wendell Willkie, a quixotic character who had just eight years earlier been a prominent delegate to the Democratic National Convention where his 1940 opponent, Franklin Roosevelt had been nominated.

Willkie broke with FDR over the New Deal especially the TVA and by 1940 was a Republican, seeking the party’s Presidential nomination. The newly converted GOP member shamelessly courted the party’s isolationist wing, against the backdrop of World War II and the growing efforts of FDR and the Democrats to support Britain and France despite the US’ “neutrality” pledge. But Willkie himself was an internationalist and as he got closer to the nomination his true colors came out and his major differences with Roosevelt appeared more personal than anything substantive. Some Republicans weren’t thrilled with the idea of nominating Willkie. Senator James Watson of Indiana told Willkie directly “Well Wendell you know back home in Indiana it’s all right if the town whore joins the church but they don’t ask her to lead the choir on the first night.”

Ultimately the Republicans were so desperate to beat Roosevelt that a majority of convention delegates decided a former Democrat in the new era of “Me Too Republicanism” (a time when large elements of the GOP following the liberal political winds in the nation outside the south shifted hard left leaving them virtually indistinguishable from non southern Democrats. The southern wing of the Democratic Party was at the time actually more conservative than most Republicans in any region of the country) was a better bet to beat FDR than a bonafide conservative Republican. Thus began a 24 year run where Liberal Republicans controlled the nominating process and from 1940 until 1960 the GOP nominated for President candidates who were only slightly to the right of their Democratic opposition. All this changed in 1964 when conservative Barry Goldwater overthrew the established order pushing first Henry Cabot Lodge (the 1960 GOP Vice Presidential nominee who was serving in JFK’s administration)  and then William Scranton. Since that election the GOP has been clearly defined as a conservative party as far as Presidential elections are concerned. (Note the Richard Nixon who ran in 1960 was a mushy moderate only slightly to the right of JFK as opposed to the law and order conservative who ran in 1968 after this clear shift in the party’s tone.)

Willkie was defeated though he did fare fare better against FDR than conservatives Herbert Hoover or Alf Landon had in the previous two elections. However, within months of his defeat at Roosevelt’s hands he became a close ally of the President. By October of the next year, just eleven months after the election he had teamed with Eleanor Roosevelt to form “Freedom House,” which advocated liberal principles globally. By late 1941 he had been named by FDR as a special envoy to Britain and as the United States become drawn into World War II he became Roosevelt’s special personal representative to both China and the Soviet Union.  He became critical of the Republicans reluctance to embrace Civil Rights (the GOP traditionally the party of African-Americans last attempted to pass a Civil Rights bill in the 1890s) and attacked the GOP for its  perceived conservative drift.


Willkie again ran for President in 1944 but as a disloyal Republican didn’t get very far in the primaries. He died before the US won World War II. While Willkie was a profile in courage for embracing internationalism from a progressive point of view, ultimately he was more loyal to his life-long party prior to the 1940 election than to the party that actually had nominated him after he changed his partisan affiliation.

While Charlie Crist is playing progressive today, his record as we have repeatedly pointed out is one of a partisan who did what he had to do to get ahead. Perhaps he now thinks the Democratic Party and its ideology is the way to go but for a man who so depends on likability and public adulation, can Florida’s Democrats actually trust him to stand for the principles the party holds dear?

Florida Democrats in 2014 seem equally desperate to the way the Republicans appeared in 1940. Being out of power as the Democrats have been in this state for 16 years means desperation and lack of rational thought has crept into the minds of some. Others simply want to “win” to increase personal influence rather than put forward a positive set of ideas for leading Florida forward.

Since the Democrats have been so unwilling to adopt hard and fast policy positions in this state Crist would have no standard to be held against and potentially could do a Willkie on the party especially considering the rest of Tallahassee if he were elected Governor is almost certain to be controlled by Republicans.

Learning the lessons of history is critical for political activists and parties alike. That is why the story of Wendell Willkie is so important as we head into 2014.


  1. Sharon Sjokvist Isern · ·

    “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” Lyndon B. Johnson


  2. Yelllow Dog Democrat · ·

    Kartik, REALLY? So in your 1940 comparison above, Charlie Crist is Wendell Wilkie and Rick Scott is…Franklin Delano Roosevelt??? Really???

    You can’t be serrious!

    Your hatred of Charlie Crist is obvious in your support of Nan Rich as you so proudly display in your banner ad on your website here.

    While I’ve said before that, like you, I also love history and the lessons that it teaches us.

    But you have to also put things in perspective. And in my humble opinion here, you can’t connect the dots quite like you want.

    If you want to destroy Charlie Crist, that’s fine because I respect your right to your freedom if speach that’s protected under our Constitution to every American.

    And if you want to line up with all the Charlie doubters with your candidate Nan Rich, I respect that too.

    But your are not intitled to make stuff up to suit your argument to support Nan and destroy Charlie by comparing Charlie to Wilkie and Rick Scott to FDR cause your really hurting your cause and people will start questioning your sanity (especially comparing Rick Scott to FDR…Really?).

    I must remind everyone that we are dealing with politicians here and they all, yes including Nan Rich, change their minds and positions from time to time because politicians listen and learn (sometimes) and frankly I prefer someone who doesn’t act like they are a theocracy.

    Charlie did do some good things as Governor and Nan did some good things as Senator.

    Let’s all have a healthy debate about the ultimate prize here…getting rid of that idiot Rick Scott and put a dagger in the Republican stranglehold in my beloved state where I was born.

    And, yes, my candidate is Charlie Crist and yours is Nan Rich.

    And there is a reason the Republicans are attacking Charlie Crist and ignoring Nan Rich, cause, one, moderate Charlie can beat Tea Party Rick and liberal progressive Nan will be outgunned and destroyed, and two, as the New York Times said yesterday about the race, it would be a horrible narrative for the Republicans if the Charlie joins the stream of Republicans who have left the party, turned Democrat and are now successful elected officials, like Commissioner Ken Welch of Pinellas, and Representatives Carl Zimmermann and Daryl Rouson and others.

    Charlie winning would be a huge signal to any wavering Republicans sick of the Tea Party that they are welcome.

    And if the whore wants to lead the choir in church on Sunday, who cares. Jesus always said we must forgive and forget.

    So all I can say is good luck.


    1. We have not endorsed Nan Rich and now that we have a second Democrat in the race we have removed the Ad from the site.

      Why is it unfair to try and analyze Crist’s record which was very consistent for years. I have a question to ask you. If Governor Crist was not being beaten badly by Marco Rubio in 2010 would have left the GOP?

      I welcome Republicans into the Democratic Party. Republicans who have shown moderate tendencies through the years not one who switched for political reasons. As I have said in the recent pieces, if Crist clearly articulates why he’s switched and where he was wrong in the past (and explains how he will counter the job loss numbers in his Governorship) I will strongly consider backing him.

      But a political party so desperate to achieve success that sells out its own principles is not worth being part of. I do not know if that is the state of the Democrats but based on how Crist discusses his past positions and what he runs on, we will know whether that is true or not.


      1. Kartik, Your article is excellent. .Real Florida below and Yellow Dog above do not have the intellectual chops to understand your cautionary tale of core values. I for one, do not want the town whore leading the the church choir. I welcome Charlies evolution. Unfortunately, instead of proving himself by endorsing Nan and running for senator as a democrat in 2016 he has shown his true colors. The Florida Squeeze is the best thing Florida politics has going for it and should be compulsory reading for the Florida Democratic Party. Thank you


  3. Real Florida Democrat · ·

    The Wilkie comparison is a stretch Kartik but for reasons unlike the ones left by the idiot “yellow dog” above.

    FDR and the Democrats were remarkably popular in the 1930s. The Depression had been blamed on the Republicans and liberalism combined with internationalism were the ideologies of the day thanks to facism.

    The Republicans rightly and smartly reached out to someone who could appeal to Democrats.

    This is the opposite of the Crist situation, in an era of growing liberalism, the Democrats have reached out to a conservative Republican to run against another conservative Republican. This is unprecedented but given the ineptness of Florida’s Democrats and the corruption of the consultants that dictate the party’s agenda it should come as no surprise.

    The people backing Crist are the same idiots that got us in to a situation where the other party has controlled the state for 20 years. The same greedy and incompetent consultants, the same staff, the same insiders, the same chosen bunch in Tallahassee that pontificates to us that we cannot possibly understand the state if we live in the rest of the state and if we don’t have the privilege of living in a city that has nothing but politics and FSU sports 24/7. Honestly we will continue to lose if we let this gang run things as they have for two decades.

    Guess what? We deserve to lose thanks to these folks. These people are only interested in money and have spent zero time trying to mine the deep Democratic bench and the county and city level in this state from I-4 southwards. They are comfortable networking with Tallahassee insiders and use total group think to make decisions. Then the greedy consultants employ the same lousy vendors and skim money off the top. It is a viscous cycle and one that shows no signs of stopping.


    1. Democrats for Change · ·

      Crist has nothing to do with those idiots.


    2. Concerned Democrat · ·

      I think many democrats are deluding themselves if they really think Crist is that viable. He went from a big lead in the Senate race to losing by 20 points. His record as Governor was one of job loses, scandal and politicizing every decision.


  4. floridian · ·

    Instead of trashing Crist on a nearly daily basis, why don’t you outline Nan Rich’s accomplishments if there are any? What kind of leader is she?


    1. Florida Voter · ·

      Nan Rich’s candidacy is a joke. She’s too old, too ethnic, too regional and too liberal to be elected Governor of Florida. Sorry but it is the cold hard truth.

      However, Charlie Crist is a deeply flawed candidate with so many potential problems if he gets the nomination it is too lengthy to spell out here. Let’s just put it this way: The GOP cannot wait to face him next Fall.

      Again our party has FAILED in its biggest test – candidate recruitment.

      Hello, Allison Tant, what exactly do you do on the job?

      Florida Voter


  5. Mark Lynn · ·

    For some reason Republican officials who become Democrats in FL have faced difficulties both within their new party & with the electorate. I think of State Reps. Frank Stone and Arnhilda Gonzalez-Quevedo (now Badia). Stone was defeated for re-election, while Arnhilda missed a filing deadline and retired. Also going back further to State Sen. Jim Glisson, who was defeated for LG & two years later in a senate comeback attempt. Tom Tobiassen did extend his legislative career by a decade following his switch, but was finally turned out by Lois Benson (an ex-Dem herself). The GOP tend to embrace their converts. Heck, Joe Negron was a Dem State House candidate in 1990. Nancy Detert our Senate nominee in Sarasota in 84. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was once President of the Florida Young Democrats & was a Dem State House nominee in 82. We need to welcome our converts, especially those who are talented and can help re-build our party. I say welcome aboard Charlie … better late than never!!


    1. Frank Stone got beat by a guy who eventually got caught in a car with a prostitute…Marvin Couch!

      This has happened nationally also…I think about Mike Forbes and Arlen Specter both defeated in primaries after switching parties. Forbes switch was all about politics. He was hardly even a moderate R. Specter on the other hand defied ideological labels. He was always very independent, conservative on some key issues, very liberal on others.

      Link Chafee has switched parties in Rhode Island also. That’s another one to watch.


      1. Chafee is going to lose in the primary from what I hear.


      2. Chafee has chosen NOT to seek re-election, knowing he would likely lose the Democrat party nomination.


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