- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

These are the best of times and the worst of times for the Republican Party.

The Charles Dickens’ reference to brighter days is clear. With each passing week, its candidate pool enriches and grows. Despite the best efforts of party Chairman Michael S. Steele to the contrary, the party’s fundraising is ramping up and messages are resonating.

The once-faithful masses are returning again to Republican ranks. Of course, this surge in the polls is in no small part due to the clumsy mistakes, missteps and misguided policies of Republican opponents — the Democrats. But the perils of a two-party system will be argued in future essays.

In the case of moderate-Republican turned right-leaning independent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, I sense his move is a microcosm of the worst of times to come for the party if current courses are unaltered.

Mr. Crist has had a rough few months. Campaigning for his party’s nod to run for a seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, Mr. Crist has been overtaken by a backlash against President Obama that has propelled his opponent, Marco Rubio, squarely to front-runner status and being the darling of many “tea party” activists. Adding insult to injury, party luminaries such as former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Vice President Dick Cheney heartily endorsed Mr. Rubio, in what could only have been interpreted as a rebuke to Mr. Crist’s moderate (read: squishy) policy stances.

Yet even given these circumstances, I believe Mr. Crist should have quietly dropped from the race and remained a Republican for four reasons.

First, the good governor needs to come to grips with why the party faithful stood against him. He committed a cardinal sin of not only embracing a Democrat, but embracing some of the policies of an individual who is single-handedly trying to unravel our economy, thread by thread. Floridians of all stripes can’t get that image out of their heads.

Neither should Mr. Crist. He made a mistake. He should probably admit that in some Republican forum (yes, even in private is suitable), and move on from there. Heck, even wise men make mistakes. They just don’t make them twice. So no matter what label Mr. Crist posts after his name, I believe he is damaged goods today.

Second, Mr. Crist had to have known that his departure would mark the beginning of the end of an otherwise promising political future. In a matter of weeks, he will seal his fate as a political roman candle — a colorful, fiery, yet short-lived flash. Mr. Crist will have no future apparatus to help him run in any race, either as an independent, Bull Moose or something else. Yes, the candidate himself matters. But if he lacks any formal campaign structure, even the best messages and messenger run flat. The Republican faithful will make sure of that.

Third, the future is a long way off. Mr. Crist could have spent this week rebuilding his Republican bona fides by stepping aside, endorsing Mr. Rubio wholeheartedly, and then actively working to get the Republican candidate elected. In true Lee Atwater fashion, such a move would have banked valuable political capital for a future Crist run, as a Republican. Who knows, perhaps a future President Romney would have made Mr. Crist a Cabinet secretary, instantly reviving his career.

Finally, Mr. Crist is a moderate in a center-right country that is increasingly tilted toward the middle. Frankly, the Republican Party needs that to show non-tea party followers this is a big-tent organization, waiting to embrace those of all political stripes, especially the frustrated masses fleeing the Democrat Party like rats from a sinking ship.

At a time when tens of millions of voters are unengaged, uninformed and increasingly frustrated with “the bums” no matter what they call themselves, Republicans are struggling to respond. Couple that with the fact voters are seemingly OK with an elected official struggling publicly with tough issues. Voters would rather see that conflicted consternation than someone who salves their concerns with hope and trillions of tax dollars. In today’s society, not every policy solution fits neatly in a four-corner box. These voters want someone who looks more like them.

Call it the Charlie Crist syndrome.

No question the electorate is disillusioned and despondent. It’s willing to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, but not to Bush Republicans.

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