Florida’s Rep. Charlie Crist is a piece of work. A career politician, he has been on the ballot as often as possible since 1986. He’s won and lost nominations and general elections for the Florida state senate, Attorney General and Governor plus the US Senate, and Congress. An election year without Mr. Crist on the ballot has become a rarity in Florida. In 2006, he persuaded a slight majority of his fellow Floridians to elect him Governor – as a conservative Republican. He was pro-Second Amendment garnering an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, “tough on crime,” “pro-life” and a champion of charter schools.
Then things changed. The ever-ambitious Mr. Crist gave up the governor’s chair in 2010 to run for the United States Senate. Although the clear front-runner, in the beginning, he lost the Republican nomination to Marco Rubio, then Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Since Mr. Crist had spent most of his adult life running for or serving in public office, he didn’t relish being stuck in the workaday world, so he licked his wounds, sucked it up and announced that he would run in that year’s general election as an “unaffiliated” candidate.
He lost again as he should have expected and was forced to work in the private sector until he could find some way to get back onto a state or federal payroll. That opportunity came in 2016. Mr. Crist ran for Congress in his home Congressional district, not as a Republican or Independent but as a newly minted Democrat who woke up one morning to realize all the positions, he had taken up to that point were, well, wrong.
So that Floridians wouldn’t have to square the positions of the old Republican Charlie Crist with the new Democrat, he erased references on his website to his previous positions on issues like abortion and gun rights and somehow managed to win both that year’s Democratic Congressional primary and the general election.
The career politician was back on track, but not playing the game at a higher level. He’d tried for the Senate several times without success but had been elected governor. Being Charlie Crist, he has persuaded himself and Florida Democrats that he can win another gubernatorial race and move back into the governor’s mansion to undo what he in his earlier incarnation and those Republicans who followed him have put into place. What’s more, to raise the funds needed to oust an incumbent governor, he’s marketing himself in national interviews as the candidate who can end whatever chance Gov. Ron DeSantis might have to be elected president by killing him off in his home state.
That may not be as easy as he seems to believe. Mr. Crist’s challenge is that Mr. DeSantis has been a successful governor in an increasingly Republican state. Florida remains fairly evenly divided with 5.2 million registered Republicans versus 5 million registered Democrats, but another four million Floridians are registered as Independents and in election after election have been throwing their votes to the GOP. To vanquish Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Crist will have to hold and excite the state’s Democrats, appeal to Republican-leaning Independents, and peel off Republicans disenchanted with Mr. DeSantis. To acquire the Democratic nomination, though, he had to defeat the favorite of Democratic progressives, so he faces some difficult decisions going into the general against Mr. DeSantis.
The Democrats and Mr. Crist himself would like to make the general election a referendum on Mr. DeSantis who they are portraying as just another Donald Trump who is ruining the state, hates women and gays, and wants to kill Mickey Mouse. If successful, Mr. Crist apparently hopes he can excite the Democratic base by playing on progressive hatred of all things Trump without having to take hard left positions. But portraying oneself as a calm alternative to a partisan warrior is tough if you spend all your time as a partisan warrior yourself.
It’s also difficult to attract even disenchanted voters to reconsider their previous support of Mr. DeSantis if you keep calling them names and that’s exactly what Mr. Crist is doing. Channeling Hillary Clinton’s tendency to demonize and attack anyone who has voted or is considering voting for your opponent does not seem a way to win the majority. Yet upon winning the Democratic nomination, Mr. Crist tweeted “Those who support DeSantis should stay with him and vote for him and I don’t want your vote.” Since Mr. DeSantis got a majority of Florida voters to get elected, attacking them seems foolish – especially since Crist had said he would attract former Mr. DeSantis voters tired of the storm and the drag of the culture wars.
No one seems to have told Mr. Crist that he can’t have it both ways and since he’s always believed he can, he probably wouldn’t listen anyway.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.