Yesterday, we went through the electoral difficulty that has been created by Governor Crist’s comments about lifting the 53 year-old Cuban embargo and visiting Cuba. Today let’s look at some potential ways Crist can solve this problem for himself and the Democratic Party.
First off, let me remind our readers that the embargo has been a largely non-partisan issue for over 50 years. Every administration from John Kennedy’s onward has maintained it, and some of the hardest line anti-Castro members of Congress have been Democrats. Also many Republicans with a libertarian bent from outside Florida such as South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford (who was actually born in Fort Lauderdale) and Senator Jeff Flake (R- Arizona) have been on the forefront of lifting trade restrictions. In the late 1990’s a group of younger more economically driven Republicans began to see the potential of the Cuban market for American goods and led by then Congressman Flake talked openly of lifting the restrictions. Several Republican officeholders including Congressman Flake traveled to Cuba.
But never had a Florida politician of note taken the aggressive stand Flake has until Charlie Crist did so this year. It is obvious that Crist never polled Miami-Dade County specifically when formulating his new policy position. He either looked exclusively at statewide polling data or at no data whatsoever. It is also possible his position was based on conviction, and if that is the case Crist deserves full marks for his political courage. Nonetheless, it is a position that is filled with peril.
Here are some ideas for Crist to walk this back without completely flipping his position:
- Do not go to Cuba until after elected Governor. At that point the trip will be about deepening Florida trade relationships and potential cultural exchanges. As a political candidate a possible trip is a minefield and will send the absolute wrong signal to voters and importantly from where I sit to Castro’s friends in Moscow whose expansionist designs threaten the economic security of the United States and our allies.
- Meet with Cuban-American Leaders in Miami for consultation and take the lessons from them to formulate an “evolving” position based on being exposed to more information. Demonstrate that Crist will provide the type of consensus-oriented leadership that Governor Rick Scott has failed to provide.
- Aggressively buy time on Spanish language TV in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale TV market to define Crist as a compassionate populist that fights for working families including many in the Cuban-American community.
- Consider Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for Lieutenant Governor. This may not be a perfect pick or the right pick but merely floating that it is being considered might freeze some potential defections. This is the least important of the suggestions.
Crist’s position and poor poll numbers in the Cuban-American community threatens Democrats up and down the ballot. This includes several key State House races such as the reelection of Democrat Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, and the efforts to defeat Erik Fresen, Manny Diaz and other sitting Republican State Representatives.
It is important Crist takes some steps to move back towards the middle on this issue. Do not abandon his position entirely but temper it in such a way that the defections stop. The warning signs are ominous for the Crist Campaign, but it is still early enough that this problem can be solved reasonably well.