Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Giving Crist The Heave-Ho

National Republicans are getting into the act.

With Gov. Charlie Crist facing a brutal Republican U.S. Senate primary or a full-blown party mutiny if he runs as an independent, prominent supporters are urging him to consider a third option: quitting altogether.

The toughest assessment came from the arm of the national Republican Party that had clamored to endorse Crist and shove aside rival Republican Marco Rubio nearly one year ago, when their positions in the polls were reversed.

”We believe there is zero chance Gov. Crist continues running in the Republican primary,” said Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senate Committee, in a memo. ”It is our view that if Gov. Crist believes he cannot win a primary, then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day.”

The memo added that Texas Sen. John Cornyn, NRSC chairman, would have delivered the advice personally — if Crist had returned his phone call.

The governor confirmed his party’s fears when he acknowledged for the first time Monday — after weeks of denying it — that he’s considering an independent bid. Down roughly 20 points in the polls despite weeks of anti-Rubio television ads, Crist quietly yanked the spots in Orlando and Tampa Bay over the weekend.

”I’m getting all kinds of advice,” Crist said in a telephone interview Monday, dismissing the pressure from national Republicans. ”I take my cues from people in Florida. That’s what I care about.”

There’s polls and cable chatter out there that show if it’s a three-way race between Crist, Rubio, and Meek, it’s all within the margin of error. That’s not because Mr. Meek is suddenly making a surge; I doubt he’s known very well outside of Miami and the poll might as well have had [generic Democrat] in the question. It’s between Crist and Rubio, and with national figures like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani getting into the mix — neither of whom had the chops last year in the Florida primary than just show up as also-rans — it’s taking on all the aspects of the race last fall in New York where the Tea Party candidate ran off the Republican… and a Democrat won the seat for the first time since the Civil War. Could that happen in Florida? Mr. Meek certainly hopes so.

If Charlie Crist exits the scene entirely, Marco Rubio will then not only own the Tea Party, the Tea Party will own him, and that includes all of them, from the flat-taxers to the birthers and the flat-earthers. Every time some teabagger nutjob claims that Barack Obama is a Socialist Commie from Kenya with a bone in his nose, Mr. Rubio will have to either back them up and therefore alienate the moderates that make up a good deal of the Florida electorate, or do a Scott Brown number and sidle away from the crazies at the risk of incurring their wrath. Good luck with that.

And if the national GOP wants to make Florida the first state where they back a Tea Party-brewed candidate, then what about Arizona or Utah where there are primary challenges from the right against incumbents John McCain and Robert Bennett? Good luck with that, too. The problem is that when you align yourself with a “movement,” you end up at their mercy, and they have a funny way of deciding what it is you believe in.