Charlie Crist has been living a charmed life. Despite a record that is contrary to the interests of many liberals on school “choice”, teacher tenure, growth management, and reproductive rights an acceptance of the former Governor as the presumptive Democratic nominee to reclaim his old office has developed among many.
This has happened partly thanks to the continued desperation of Democrats across the state. We’ve seen prominent leaders in the teachers union, women’s groups, the trial lawyers, environmentalists and elected officials move en masse to Crist despite a questionable record from his GOP days. Younger Democrats who support Crist openly may have no recollection of the battles of the late 1990s and early 2000s when thirty years of progressive governance of this state was undone brutally and in short order by a partisan State House and an ideologically motivated governor in Jeb Bush. To an extent the Republicans running the State Senate prevented even a further swinging of the pendulum to the right, but the damage was still done in a big way.
Acceptance of Crist’s Democratic credentials seemed to have grown from his announcement in November which threw down the gauntlet on economic issues and cronyism to Florida Republicans until the release of his book and related media tour a few weeks ago.
However, Crist’s controversial and quite frankly ridiculous comments about Jeb Bush’s tenure as Governor should threaten much of this support. No question exists that Rick Scott has been a poor Governor when it comes to creating higher wage, professional jobs in Florida, pushing a radical agenda on any number of issues including women’s reproductive rights and the environment. But Scott for many Democrats myself included is not the ideological warrior that Jeb Bush was. The current Governor is a bit of a buffoon and has pursued policies which hurt average Floridians and the future prospects for our state. However, I don’t think he has quite the vision that Jeb Bush to remake a largely progressive and forward looking state into a laboratory for conservative think tanks and right-wing out-of-state interests.
Many of those who are Crist’s strongest backers were also the people that fought Bush the hardest for all eight years of his Governorship. The failure of Crist to very publicly clarify or apologize for his comments on Bush could create a problem down the road. Do those backing Crist continue to have universal credibility among progressives if they stick with Crist without a Bush related apology? Or do some of these people peel off and support Crist’s primary opposition, Senator Nan Rich? Or does it simply not matter? But how could it not matter, if the Democrats are in any way a values based party?
Anyway you cut it, Crist has made what was appearing to be clean party switch and repositioning of his ideology a mess with one foolish comment that harkened back to 2006 when he was trying to get around Tom Gallagher on the right during the GOP Gubernatorial Primary. At the time the strong feeling in Florida political circles was that Bush preferred Gallagher to succeed him, but since he stayed publicly neutral, Crist made every attempt to suck up to him publicly. Rank-in-file Republican voters had no idea that Bush prefered Gallagher.
This quite frankly smells the same and now that Crist runs as a Democrat, it is bound to create problems down the road unless he addresses it. Perhaps Crist is already employing a General Election strategy, but in an off-year election where turnout matters among base voters this sort of gaffe, especially if it is repeated could be catostophic.