Tuesday, May 26, 2015
When I Hugged the President
The political downfall of Charlie Crist, once the popular governor of Florida, has been sad to watch, because he didn't deserve it. Here was a man with an approval rating of over 60 per cent before his ill-fated hug with the President. It wasn't like he was doing anything great as governor, but he was keeping the state on an even keel, which is far more than can be said of the state's current governor, Rick Scott.
Crist seemed a shoe-in for US Senator when he chose to run for Mel Martinez's seat in Congress rather than another term as governor. The hug dogged him throughout the election. The Tea Party foisted Marco Rubio, the little known Florida Senate leader, into the limelight, who eventually toppled Crist in the Republican primaries. Crist tried to run as an independent candidate in the general election, but lost again.
This was at the peak of Tea Party politics where you had to show that you were against the Obama administration in every way, shape or form. No hugs allowed. It was verboten to even come within hugging distance of the reviled President, unless you used that intimidate space to tell the President off as Jan Brewer did when Obama visited Arizona in January, 2012. Charlie is just too nice a guy to do something like that. Unlike other Republican governors, he showed respect for the President when most Republicans felt none was deserved.
I suppose if Charlie could have a do-over he would have run for re-election, but he had no way of knowing that the infamous hug would garner so much attention or that a relatively young upstart like Rubio would gain so much traction so quickly. But, this was the nature of Tea Party politics. They wanted to throw out the old guard, which they felt had compromised the policies and values of the Grand Old Party they claimed to embrace.
Charile thought he would find some love in the Democratic Party when he switched parties in 2012. After all, a large measure of his success as governor was his ability to reach across the aisle. He was seen as a bipartisan figure. Unfortunately, not much love came. Democrats didn't embrace him in his independent run, and seemed to begrudgingly accept him when he ran for Governor again in 2014, making him their nominee, but abandoning him in the general election.
This was odd since Crist now embraced Obama's policies and had shown his support for him at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Obama carried the state a second time that year. Unfortunately, in one of Florida's lowest voter turn-outs in two decades, Crist narrowly lost to incumbent governor Rick Scott, who had made a complete asshole of himself throughout the election, to the point of refusing to take the stage in a debate because of Charlie Crist's portable fan.
Rick Scott had slithered into office not once, but twice with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote. This is a guy who only moved to Florida to take advantage of the lenient bankruptcy laws, as his Columbia/HCA was under fire for Medicare fraud. He claimed no responsibility in the company he cobbled together from a number of private health care providers across the nation. Columbia was eventually forced to pay nearly $1 billion in damages.
You would think this kind of corporate maleficence was far worse than anything Crist had done, but no, Republicans would rather vote for a snake oil salesman than someone who turned his back on their party. There weren't enough Democrats there to cover Charlie's back. Given the current debacle in state government, which Carl Hiassen describes in this article, you would think that a lot of Floridians are wishing they had a second chance to vote, but for all intents and purposes Charlie Crist's political career is over.
It is hard to bounce back from two jarring defeats, but he is contemplating another run at the US Senate, as Marco Rubio has been forced to vacate his seat to run for President. Crist would probably be better advised not to do so, as it is unlikely he would survive another grueling election process. Most likely, Democrats would prefer Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is the current head of the Democratic National Committee. The best Charlie can hope for now is access to a Clinton White House, should Hillary win in 2016.
Charlie Crist was a decent governor by the relatively low standards of Florida, which hasn't seen a good governor since Bob Graham (1979-1987). The state has been in a free fall ever since, but of course you would never know it to hear Republicans talk, who have ruled the state since 1999, when they were able to overcome the last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, better known as the Prozac governor for those who still remember him. He passed away shortly before the end of his second term, bequeathing his seat to Buddy MacKay, who proved no match for Jeb Bush's political machine in the next election cycle.
I'm sure Charlie will find other things to do. Probably become a lobbyist, as so many former governors and Congresspersons do. It's not like we will really miss him, but given the shameless nature of Rick Scott and the current GOP, Charlie Crist seems a very respectable guy by comparison. He just shouldn't have hugged the President.