Of all the national figures on the GOP stage, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is one of the more moderate. He’s the kind of guy who refused to fill an appellate court opening because the only candidates presented to him were white. (His decision was overruled last week by the State Supreme Court.) He’s also the kind of guy who campaigned for the stimulus bill by actually appearing with President Obama — you know, the guy his party tried to paint as an elitist secret Muslim who wanted to distribute condoms to kindergartners. So, all in all and all things considered, he’s usually an inoffensive Republican, and a step up from his predecessor Jeb Bush. Except he switched his position on abortion, clearly for political gain, which is equally — if not more — noxious than being anti-choice based on principal.
That Crist changed his position is not some breaking story. It’s been reported on since last year. But in the wake of the Sarah Palin resignation, there’s a fresh reassessment of who else will fit the bill of a GOP presidential candidate in 2012, and Crist is part of that pack. He was also mentioned as a potential running mate for McCain, before Mr. Maverick went totally off the political deep end by choosing the thrilla from Wasilla. But Crist seems like a bit of a flip-flopper (or opportunist) on “social issues” like reproductive rights and gay rights. Barred from running for another term as Florida’s Governor, he’s now in the race for one of his state’s Senate seats, another potential resume item to aid him if he does choose to run for the Oval Office in three years.
I’m not naive enough to think that Democrat and Independent candidates don’t do the exact same thing. Still, it’s disheartening when one of the least offensive GOP figures becomes someone who panders as the politicos watch the clock slowly ticks down to the next Presidential season. It remains to be seen whether or not Crist can even land the Senate seat, but the contrast between Crist’s positions 10 years ago vs. what they are now seems a bit like a John McCain ploy after his failed 2000 bid to burnish his conservative credentials. Crist’s changes of heart on social issues may be crucial, or they may be irrelevant (Obama won on issues beyond abortion, gay rights, and gun control). Nevertheless, it may be a signal that more and more moderate Republicans (see also: Jeffords, Jim; Specter, Arlen) figure they can’t hack it in their own party anymore without either leaving or tilting more and more to the right.