The Corner

Last Temptation of Crist

In a move that would have been mildly surprising two months ago, Florida governor Charlie Crist has elected to continue his run for the U.S. Senate as a non-affiliated candidate, breaking official ties with the Florida GOP.

“My decision to run as a non-affiliated candidate for the Senate in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me,” Crist said after thanking friends and family at a gathering of supporters.

“Unfortunately, our political system is broken,” Crist added, marking the one billionth time an American political candidate has used that particular phrase to justify the pursuit of a personal ambition.

“I was never one who sought to hold elected office, to demagogue or point fingers. For me, public service is always about . . . putting the needs of people first.”

Employing a bizarre logic that would suggest he doesn’t understand the nature of either primary elections or the two-party architecture from which he has benefited immensely over his career, Crist said that whether he wins or loses should be decided by the whole of the Florida electorate. “It’s not one club’s decision or another — or even a club within that club. . . .That’s why we go straight to November.”

Crist also gave listeners a taste of more and bigger flip-flops to come. He listed among the difficult choices he made during his tenure as Florida governor both the decision to support offshore drilling and, in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, his decision to oppose it.

In a moment of profound understatement, Crist said that “I am aware that after this speech ends, I don’t have either party helping me.”

Quite right. Immediately after Crist’s announcement, Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), and John Thune (R., S.D.) released a joint statement withdrawing support.

“We can no longer support the candidacy of Governor Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate.  More than a year ago, Governor Crist asked for our endorsement with a commitment that he would proudly represent Floridians and our party with principled conservative leadership. Quite simply, he did not keep his word.

“The question for Floridians is whether he will keep his word about all of the new promises he makes. Elections are about trust and frankly, it is unclear whether Governor Crist deserves any.

“The Governor said he has been ‘listening to the people.’ We hope he will listen to the thousands of Republican donors who will no doubt ask Governor Crist to return their donations. We will request full refunds ourselves and we plan to put our resources and support behind Marco Rubio.

“Marco is an emerging star who represents limited government, lower taxes, and free markets, and we are confident he will be the next United States Senator from Florida.”

Marco Rubio, Crist’s Republican primary opponent and the proximate cause of his bolt from the party, piled on, saying in an interview that Crist’s decision was not guided by principle.

“That’s not what this is about at all,” Rubio told ABC News’s Terry Moran in an interview that will air tonight. “In fact, this has nothing to do with ideas or principles or ideology; it’s about, quite frankly, political convenience. It’s about someone who wants to continue his career in politics and doesn’t believe he can do that this year within the Republican party.”

And DSCC chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) played the Crist split as part of a narrative about Republican civil war:

“Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio are the two latest casualties of a divided Republican Party cannibalizing itself. As usual, Charlie Crist is putting his political ambition first and Marco Rubio is threatening to impose his extreme philosophical agenda. Meanwhile, Kendrick Meek will continue to be a hands-on leader, focused on improving Florida’s economy and bringing jobs to the state. Kendrick has run a very strong campaign and will likely emerge as the candidate of choice for Democrats, Independents and even moderate Republicans.”

For his part, Crist has reportedly spent recent days in an attempt to rally staffers and fundraisers to his new cause. He has nevertheless been forced to give prorated refunds to a number of contributors angry over the switch.

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