Other candidates flip-flop, but Charlie Crist has elevated the political reversal to an art form.
The number and diversity of Crist’s positions is daunting on its own, but what really stands out is his sheer boldness. After Crist cranks the steering wheel around and flips a U-turn, he’ll look you straight in the eye and quietly tell you that he had been headed north the whole time.
Our Flip-Flop Hall of Fame is by no means complete, but seeks to recognize the most impressive instances of Crist’s blatant floppery. May others learn from his example.
Fastest Flop — Health care reform
During a local TV interview on Aug. 27, Crist said he would have voted for President Obama’s health care reform bill had he been in the Senate at the time.
Approximately two hours later, he released a clarifying statement: “Apparently, based on an interview this afternoon, there may be some confusion regarding my position on health care. If I misspoke, I want to be abundantly clear: the health care bill was too big, too expensive, and expanded the role of government far too much. Had I been in the United States Senate at the time, I would have voted against the bill because of unacceptable provisions like the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program.”
Most Predictable Reposition — Negative campaigning
But that was before a downward slide in his poll numbers. Now he’s hitting the character of both Rubio and Meek in the same ad. Perhaps Crist is under the impression that a double-negative ad makes a positive?
Slickest Sea Change – Offshore oil drilling
While running for governor in 2006, Crist flatly denounced offshore oil drilling.
Then came four-dollar-per-gallon gasoline, “drill, baby, drill” and the possibility that Crist might be John McCain’s vice presidential pick. By June of 2008, Crist was joining hands with McCain to call for a lifting of a federal ban on offshore drilling. “Not having that blanket moratorium and letting states’ rights be recognized is certainly appropriate,” he said. State Senate President Jeff Atwater says as late as the spring of 2009, Crist was lobbying him to help pass a bill allowing near-shore drilling.
After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Crist went into tough-guy mode, calling a special session of the legislature to propose that a constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling be added to the November ballot. Republicans derided the move as political theater, in part because drilling is already banned by state law. The House adjourned on a party-line vote after less than an hour.
“The only thing we can do in this special session is ban something that’s already banned. This is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” one GOP House member said.
Slimiest Switch – Leaving the GOP
After emphatically denying the possibility, Crist announced his defection on April 29. He invoked his flagging poll numbers, saying that, “It’s your decision — it’s not one club’s decision or another. … It’s a decision for all the people of Florida to make.”
Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who had pushed Crist on the issue on March 28, later commented: “I asked Crist five times, whether or not he was going to run as an independent, and people said to me afterwords ‘Why did you keep asking?’ and I said, well he kept saying no he wasn’t going to run as an independent, he was going to stay in the Republican Party, but his body language and his eyes — everything about him said to me, ‘No, I’m going to run as an independent.’”
Last week, Crist told the Palm Beach Post editorial board that he “absolutely would have” left the GOP, even if he were ahead of Rubio by 20 points.
Most Explicit Evolution — Gay adoption
Crist announced on Sept. 14 a change in his view of gay adoption and suggested he might drop a lawsuit his administration had been pursuing on the matter. Rubio and Meek pounced, the former digging up a tape of Crist saying that gay adoption isn’t appropriate, the latter finding an old Crist direct mail piece.
When an appeals court ruled that the state gay adoption ban is unconstitutional, Crist rooted against his own Attorney General’s office, which had been fighting the case on behalf of a state agency, by calling the judgment “great.”
Most Unstimulating U-Turn — Support for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act
When President Obama was stumping in support of the stimulus bill, Crist stood with Obama in front of a “Yes We Can” chanting crowd and said, “This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy.” Florida’s most venerable GOP icon, former Gov. Jeb Bush, called Crist’s support for the stimulus “unforgivable.”
Wait — what support for the stimulus? “Well, I didn’t endorse it. I — you know, I didn’t even have a vote on the darned thing,” Crist told CNN on Nov. 4. “But I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians.”
PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, was almost incredulous: “This, from the same man who skipped a Florida Cabinet meeting to campaign with Obama for the stimulus in Fort Myers in February? Who went on national talk shows and across the state selling the plan?”
Biggest Betrayal – Keeping GOP campaign contributions
When Crist left the party, he took Republican donors’ dollars with him. Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with party stalwarts. When asked about it on April 30, Crist told an MSNBC audience that he would, “Ah, probably give it back to them. I mean, it’s not that big a deal.”
No dice. “People gave to a good cause and we’re going to spend it on a good cause,” Crist said on May 12. “That’s why I’m going to keep it.”
Then, after refunding a donation from indicted Florida GOP ex-chairman Jim Greer, Crist was pushed by CNN on Aug. 29 whether he would extend the courtesy to other donors. “We’ll give it back to people who had asked for it,” he said.
Why, then, are Republican donors suing you?
Most Vicious Veto – Abortion ultrasound bill
In 1998, Crist called himself “pro-choice, but not pro-abortion,” and said during a debate that he would not support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. When running for governor in 2006, Crist called the pro-choice label “a lie” and said he was pro-life, with the caveat that, “I don’t think that politicians ought to put themselves in the place of physicians.” But he also said he would sign a state abortion ban if one made it to his desk as governor, provided it made exceptions for rape and incest.
After Crist left the GOP, he scrubbed his website of the pro-life language he had pushed while running as a Republican — but not before the Rubio campaign got a screenshot. Then he vetoed a measure that would have required most women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion. “This bill places an inappropriate burden on women seeking to terminate pregnancy,” he wrote.
Most Objectionable 180 — Teacher merit pay bill
Senate Bill 6, one of the GOP’s legislative priorities, would have instituted merit pay and abolished tenure for new teachers. The governor was for it — at first.
Then the teacher’s unions hit the panic button, resulting in what was described as the most passionate and intense lobbying in Florida since the Terri Schiavo case. On April 15, as he was mulling an independent run for Senate, Crist dropped the veto hammer, saying, “We must start over. This bill has deeply and negatively affected the morale of our teachers, our parents and our students. They are not confident in our system because they do not believe their voices were heard.”