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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Crist Caucuses With Himself

Would-be U.S. Senator Charlie Crist of Florida is going to have a very long nine weeks until election day. As the probability of Republican control of the Senate increases from “remote” to “long-shot,” interest in Crist’s partisan alignment is naturally increasing as well, and it’s already clear he can’t just kick the can down the road until November 3, much as he likes to say that he intends to “caucus with the people of Florida.”
During a CNN interview yesterday, the permatanned exile from the Florida GOP was extraordinarily frank in making not only his future party affiliation in the Senate but his views on the issues of the day strictly contingent on determining what it takes to get elected:

“No. 1, this is a moot question unless I win, so I’ve got to work very hard to make sure I achieve the trust and support of my fellow Floridians to continue to be a public servant for them,” Crist said. “I think they know the way I’m going to go: I’m going to go the way that’s best for them, and I sincerely mean that — and that’s very important. I don’t have to say whether I’m going to caucus with the Democrats or Republicans.”

By way of illustration of what he means by “caucusing with the people of Florida,” Crist indicated he opposed the Senate’s health care reform legislation, but would work to “fix it.” I’d bet the farm, if I had one, that Crist’s “independent” stand on this subject can be boiled down to support for the popular elements of health reform (e.g., bans on preexisting condition exclusions), and opposition to the unpopular parts (e.g., cost controls and coverage mandates). To “fix” health reform by deleting the unpopular measures would, of course, create an incoherent mess of a non-system in which health care costs would truly skyrocket for everybody, including the federal government.
In any event, the Florida (and perhaps DC) Democrats who are keeping Crist’s candidacy afloat need to understand that today’s GOP is simply not going to tolerate a Senate Caucus member of truly independent views on anything of major national importance. Perhaps Crist could shake down Mitch McConnell for some personal perks and privileges in exchanging for making him Majority Leader of the Senate, but anyone who remembers the joy with which conservatives greeted the 2009 party switch by Arlen Specter should realize that significant ideological diversity is no longer on the table for Republican senators. If Crist wants to set himself up as some sort of weathervane for public opinion in Florida, or secure significant public spending commitments for his state, his only avenue is to caucus with the far more tolerant Democrats. He might as well be forced to admit that right now, or instead admit that his “independent” status is no more than a ruse to get a second conservative Republican candidate on the ballot this November.

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