Floridians have as much of a mixed view about Charlie Crist as Crist seems to have about himself. Two months ago today, we reported that former Florida governor Charlie Crist had officially converted from independent to Democrat for an upcoming race against national embarrassment Rick Scott.
That, in itself, isn’t particularly newsworthy, but for the fact that Crist originally ran and was elected as a Republican.
With Florida having only recently and barely gone blue during the last election, it’s easy to take Crist’s conversion as the kind of cynical political expediency that we expect of career politicians. And without a doubt, Crist himself acknowledges guilt of the same, but not for what you might think.
During a December interview with the LGBT press, following a meeting with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in Orlando, Crist admitted that at least one of his most Republican acts was a matter of thoughtlessly toeing the party line. Specifically, his support of a continued gay marriage ban in Florida. To Watermark’s Tom Dyer:
[box type=”shadow”]It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” In reference to his remarks being “politically expedient, he said that “They were. They were. And it was wrong. That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.[/box]
Of course, mea culpas are nice, but it’s hard for Florida Dems not to feel a bit callous about the apology. After all, while Crist was routinely and derisively called a “stealth Democrat” during his Republican tenure, and was well-known for straddling the political fence, it’s hard to let go of his history of backing GOP policies whether he agreed with them or not. Dyer gave Crist a chance to explain his Republican record, and Crist said the following:
[box type=”shadow”]I was a Republican. You know why I was a Republican? Because my mom and dad were Republicans. I’ve told many people this. It’s the same reason I’m a Methodist. So I grew up as a Republican. I joined the Young Republicans, College Republicans… all that stuff. And as I got older I got interested in politics, and I ran for office as a Republican and I tried to be a good team player. But it was an awkward fit, and on social issues it was especially awkward.
I have three sisters. My mom and dad raised my three sisters and me to be decent to other people, to be kind to other people, to have compassion, empathy, sympathy when necessary… the things we talked about earlier. And it became harder and harder for me to toe the Republican party line. I tried, and I tried, and I tried… until I couldn’t any more.
As a Republican, on social issues I always felt I was a round peg in a square hole. I just didn’t fit. But I tried, until I couldn’t do it any more… until I had to say, ‘Enough is enough.’
My mom and dad raised us to love everyone, to be nice to everyone, to be kind to everyone for as long as you possibly can. So telling women what to do with their bodies, telling people who to love or who to marry… it’s not for me. It’s not for government. It shouldn’t be for anybody. It’s between them and their god. I’ve always really felt that way, and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. As a Democrat I don’t have to, and that’s why I’m so happy to be home… where I belong.[/box]
Speaking as a lifelong Floridian, a member of the LGBT community, and a former Republican, I can appreciate where Crist is coming from. Through my union president mother’s various political dealings, I’ve met Crist twice. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy at the time. So, perhaps I’m a bit biased when I say that I believe him.
With a union president for a mother and an Eisenhower Republican for a father, I can understand exactly why he phased from one party to the other in the Koch era. I did exactly the same, finding that what my father would have once called a “social and economic conservative” was by 2005 considered a left-leaning Democrat.
But whether you personally relate to Crist or not, or whether you consider this yet another act of political expediency, one thing’s for sure: After everything Crist has said in the last few months, the odds of him reconciling with the Tea Party’s corporate masters are slim to none. Republicans demand ideological purity; once you burn that bridge, you might as well be Dianne Feinstein as far as Republicans are concerned. Forever.
So, is Crist a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat? Not exactly. But, then again, Democrats aren’t the “ideological purity” party, we’re the “just act like a Democrat” party. With this latest statement, Charlie Crist has definitively cast his lot with the good guys – he’s got one bridge left, and we can expect him not to set this one ablaze anytime soon.