“I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there. I was a Republican, and I saw the activists and what they were doing; it was intolerable to me.” — Charlie Crist, Fusion, Act (at least) 3.
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t”. — Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Charlie Crist’s statement that he left the Republican Party because of racism is simply false and untenable.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post pretty clearly blew this out of the water with his article “Charlie Crist didn’t leave the Republican party because of racism. He left it because he couldn’t win a primary.” Considering that a) by leaving the Republican party after his precipitous drop in the polls yet staying in the race, Crist killed any chances Rep. Kendrick Meek, an African-American had of winning the race, and that b) those same Republicans who bemoan literal or figurative embracing of Barack Obama are also not dues-paying members of the Joe Biden fan club… taken along with Cillizza’s point that Crist seems to have neglected mentioning Obama’s race in his first party switch… and Crist’s claim doesn’t merit being taken at face value.
Moving past “is what he said true”, let’s look at perhaps the more probing and ponderous question — why did he say it?
Did he say it because he believes it to be true? Pretty clearly no. With the evidence so obvious and abundant that Crist’s issue with the GOP was his own political career and not the haunting specter of racism keeping down the man more campaign geek than cultural Greek.
Did he say it because he’s trying to rewrite history? Probably not. Crist is intelligent enough to know that his 2012 statements aren’t exactly ancient history, and even the laziest journalists can YouTube Charlie 1.0 to compare to Charlie 2.0 and Charlie 3.0 to see what’s changed.
No, Charlie babbled out this bit of BS for the only reason he ever takes ANY step publicly. He plays the numbers game. Every step he takes is political calculus and what he thinks gives him the best chance of extending his career with another successful election. Sometimes it works — like when he chose to run as a “Jeb Bush Republican” for governor, sometimes it’s missteps and the ground falls out from under him as it did in his most recent go. Every step he makes is motivated and measured against the great immutable truth. Politics is a game of numbers.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night, his main character is walking down the street and suddenly stops in place because he realizes he has no more reason to go forward than to go backward. He stands there for hours because he has nothing in his life that compels him to conclude to take the next step in any particular direction over another. Crist faces this dilemma — lacking any internal motivation, he cannot create his own momentum. His only force of gravity is his career aspiration. But when the only thing guiding your steps is what seems to be popular opinion, sooner or later you’ll get noticed for having a very meandering, wandery path.
Like Hamlet, it sounds like madness on its surface. But he has his reason for saying what he says.
Crist played the race card not because of what I would think or what the Washington Post would think. His only rationale was a conclusion that the number of Florida voters hear this and say “Yeah! Crist is Team-Democrat because Republicans are stupid racist hatemongers!” exceeds the total number of Florida voters who this turns off. He’s aiming squarely for the “I am an undecided voter, but I get most of my news from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show” crowd.
Remember that Crist takes NO stage direction from the 1/3 of the state that’s dyed-in-the-wool Republican and would vote for Keyboard Cat over Crist provided the clever cat brandished an R next to his name and played a tune about yay, less government. Crist does not pursue votes he knows he won’t get. Similarly, he’s not speaking to the 1/3 that will dimple a chad for any warm-bodied D in any given election.
Crist’s remarks like this are made because he believes more undecideds will find this compelling than will find it repulsive. That’s the method to his madness. Numbers, pure and simple.
Is he right? Was his Hamletian show of apparent rambling lunacy actually genius subterfuge? I’ll have grounds more relative than this. The play’s the thing, and the curtain rises November 4.