What’s most peculiar about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s (R) announcement that he’d be running as an independent in the state’s heated U.S. Senate race is not so much the decision as it is the reaction to it. The responses ranged from incredulity to ridicule, thereby cluing us in to the paradox that is our democracy. Despite an early lead of 33 percentage points compared to Republican Marco Rubio at 29 points and Democrat Kendrick Meek at 15 points in a recent McLaughlin and Associates Florida poll, the lead pollster Jim McLaughlin still clowns Crist in an Orlando Sentinel interview:
“I would make a pretty good bet he not only will not win, he will run an embarrassing third,’’ says McLaughlin. “I think he’s done politically.’’
While we may laud our system as open, transparent and flexible, in reality … it’s probably not – based on our knee-jerk twisting of the face whenever a candidate or group rocks the “Third Party” tune. There is a considerable degree of social anathema and rigidly imposed political exile when that happens, as if the dominant two-party system were this nation’s foundation rather than the other way around.
United promoters of the free world extol the democratic virtues of our political system, yet prognosticators collectively shun the brave few who exercise political chutzpah. Do you want your eggs scrambled or sunny side-up? The body politic can’t seem to make up its mind on this question. Regardless of the self-centered motives, Crist gets a few props for the display of intestinal fortitude. Says Crist:
“I know this is uncharted territory… and I am aware after this ends I don’t have either party helping me… But I’m counting on you. I think we need a new tone in Washington. I know we’re doing the right thing.”
True: we can infer from his new path that the Governor’s nerves were near raw over the sudden ascendancy of former state House Speaker and Tea Party personality Marco Rubio (R). But, let’s go ahead and give the Governor due on engineering a Lieberman/Specter hybrid in the Southern battleground state. Little wonder that, apparently, Connecticut Independent and thorn-in-the-Democratic-Caucus-eye Senator Joe Lieberman (I) convinced Crist to do it. Those of us sick of what President Obama himself repeatedly rotates in every speech as “politics as usual” should enjoy this unusual poke in the machine’s eye, right? Could it lead to the emergence of a “Third Party” movement? Not anytime in the near future considering how wedded we are to the party Matrix. But, it’s worthwhile considering there is something in the air.
Any shake-up rattling the stale, suited, left v. right sameness characterizing contemporary American politics is always welcome. Not to say Crist’s announcement amounts to an earth-tipping-off-its-axis game changer that will forever alter the political landscape. No … Not really … Forget about it. Despite the Orange state executive’s brazen move, one can’t ignore the dynamics of an old head politico like Crist putting on new school kicks. Obviously, Crist is a longtime career political professional seeking to retire in good standing with his trade. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) is pretty much on point: “This decision is not about policy or principles. It is about what he believes is in his political self-interest.” And there’s a bubbling pit of spite in his newfound political religion that may rub Florida voters the wrong way. Rubio’s dust-kicking rise as young and stubborn conservative upstart more than likely riles the Governor on a personal level, leading to the risky business of running an independent bid. His righteous diatribe against “The Man” rings hollow to folks who’ve known nothing but Charlie Crist as Florida’s personification of “The Man.” That perception could severely hamper his ability to galvanize grassroots fundraising to offset the lack of party apparatus.
Crist might avoid the costly and pernicious primary, but there isn’t anything unique about that at the moment given the sudden lack of opposition to Rubio in the GOP primary and Rep. Kendrick Meek’s (D-FL) coasting on the Democratic side. Unless Crist can somehow muster some sort of new, Congressional mid-term voter’s revolution, Rubio now has the advantage of rallying the GOP state party machine and national conservative activists to his side. The problem for Crist is identifying an active, enthusiastic core of supporters that can outperform Rubio’s base. Judging from the muted vibe present at Crist’s independent announcement rally, he’s got a tough road ahead.
It’s not a simple game of former Republican candidate with statewide name recognition suddenly redraws the map by siphoning GOP voters come general election. The math may, ultimately, contradict Meek’s cocky public pronouncement that Crist’s indy bid favors the Democratic candidate as GOP voters are scattered across the winds of a Crist/Rubio cage match. Meek’s open punditry – especially as the Black candidate – can attract unwanted attention once GOP voters (savvy enough to realize the implications of that analysis) rush to Rubio in an effort to permanently forestall that prediction.