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Why Aren’t More Republican Politicians Following Charlie Crist’s Example?


Last week our own Justin Baragona wrote the insightful piece, Democrat Charlie Crist Continues To Hold Commanding Lead Over Rick Scott In Florida. My first set of reactions approached something like tentative relief that Floridian voters are showing an early preference for a left-leaning Governor in an otherwise dependably red state. My second thought was something along the lines of “Charlie Christ is looking pretty handsome for a man of 57.” (Sue me.) And in a shamefully distant third, the obvious questions finally occurred to me: Charlie Crist went Democrat? When? Why?

The politically-minded writer tries to canvass every issue of importance. But we often have day jobs, we have chores and errands, we have families. Still, I remain astonished that this one got by me. And apparently, it’s old news since Crist converted (religious language deliberately invoked) in early December of 2012, after he endorsed President Barack Obama in his successful re-election campaign. There was a lot going on at the time besides the newly-minted, second-term Obama Presidency. The Northeast was in early stages of Sandy recovery, and just one week after Crist’s announcement, the nation was jolted by the Sandy Hook Elementary school mass executions.

Yet and still this ought to have generated more buzz, back then as well as today. If only for its novelty. After all, Ranker’s list of Notable Republicans Turned Democrats has to reach for former NBA star Charles Barley to come up with 20. And though I didn’t just fall from the turnip truck and assume there’s more than meets the ideological eye to Crist’s metamorphosis (like say, lingering anger at Tea Party usurper Marco Rubio, who turned Crist into an unsuccessful third-party candidate in Florida’s 2010 Senate race), much of what Crist says about the change is worth hearing. In fact, given his newfound political relevancy and pop cultural ascension, the only remaining question I have is this: Why aren’t more genuine civil servants of the Republican ilk following suit?

Last week, Crist appeared as a guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to promote his new book, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat (so we can also scratch altruistic reasons off the list of Crist’s  party-switching motivations). During the appearance, the once-and-hopefully-future-Gov paraphrased a well-worn quote that he’s offered to various media outlets as a catalyst for the transformation:

“I think I’ll quote my friend Jeb Bush. He said it better than I ever could…Today’s Republican Party, at least the leadership, is perceived as being anti-women, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-education, anti-gay couples, anti-environment.”

Though the party is indeed perceived as largely the refuge of old, wealthy white men afflicted with an acute fear of change, this has not been enough to scare off the usual suspects. Rather than search for a new platform (even an independent one) that might serve to widen their individual appeal at the ballot box, most of these lemmings seem more than content to go over the cliff with their cohorts. When that lemming takes the form of a female or an ethnic minority (for now anyway), it just instills that much more scorn and pity.

The real question as I see it does not revolve around why Crist fled into the more inclusive arms of the Democratic Party. Rather I wonder why more Republicans of any social conscience, not to mention survival instincts, haven’t done the same. Just look at what breaking the chains of GOP messaging bondage has done for Mitt Romney’s image. That said, everyone across party lines like a winner and if Crist prevails this coming November, especially in a conservative state like Florida, the fair weather friends may just flock to the left en masse.

Becky Sarwate

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