Since late last year, when Sen. Mel Martinez announced he wouldn't be running for reelection to his seat in 2010, it was Charlie Crist's to lose. He was one of the nation's most popular governors, with a knack for charming his detractors that bordered on Reagan-esque.
After Jeb Bush declared he wouldn't run, Crist became the presumptive Senator-elect. Basically, the senator-barring-catastrophe.
But it wasn't just bad luck that has sent the Crist campaign reeling. The governor and his inner circle have staged a veritable clinic on how to alienate one's own political party.
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In the spirit of year-end lists, we'll unveil the five steps to campaign suicide, Crist-style, after the jump.
Throw Jeb under the bus. Crist's deference to the modern titan of Florida Republican politics lasted till the day after the 2006 gubernatorial election, when Jeb Bush photos and quotes vanished from the Crist website, never to return. Clearly, Crist aimed to have Florida forget its longtime governor so that Crist could have their hearts to himself. But that doesn't happen overnight, kiddo.
Cultivate total ignorance about your campaign's biggest donors. Another seed of destruction, sown long before crisis struck the Crist campaign. Every politician cavorts with deep-pocketed donors like Scott Rothstein. But only a reckless, irresponsible one will risk being so close to a guy whose status as a pillar of the community was so obviously fraudulent. And he's just the most visible villain. If we don't get around to naming the others who Crist owes favors to, it's because Crist's campaign will have become irrelevant, based on other blunders, like...
Catch Obama Fever. The rest of the Republicans got immunized. Crist must have been attending one of his beloved ribbon-cuttings the day they were giving shots. In February he hosted Obama in Fort Pierce, greeting him with a big bear hug. Then he went on the talk show tour to declare his support for the stimulus. Possibly the single most colossal political miscalculation in American politics this year. Even back then there was vast resentment toward Obama among the most conservative Republicans, who love to vote in primaries. It provided an enormous opportunity for a more conservative Republican, and Marco Rubio pounced on it.
Promote cronies. Defend cronies. The first sign of Crist's paranoia, his instinct for exclusivity, was when he allowed his former protege, Republican Party Chair Jim Greer float the idea of the party's endorsing Crist in advance of the party's primary. An incredible lack of respect for Republican voters -- just the kind of thing you don't want to do before a Republican primary. Greer should have fallen on his sword after that. Instead, it's gotten worse; and yet Crist is still defending the schmuck. An even more consequential (for Florida, at least) act of cronyism: Crist's naming of George LeMieux -- a lobbyist, at the time -- to the U.S. Senate seat vacated early by Martinez. There were lots of qualified contenders, but it's evident that Crist didn't trust any of them so much as he trusted LeMieux. The message to voters: I place my personal political interests above the state's.
- Hubris (AKA All of the above). That age-old political folly of invincibility. In every one of the cases above, Crist and his people must have recognized that they were taking a risk. And in each case they must have bet on Crist's talent for deflecting criticism and scandal -- a talent that finally ran out in 2009. It's apparent now that he's surrounded himself with sycophants who each had personal motives that obscured the political advice they gave him. In each of the above cases, there should have been someone with the courage to tell Crist he was taking too big a risk. But none of them wanted to be the bearer of bad news.
The most recent sign of Crist's vanishing Senate hopes: the Diaz-Balarts' rescinding their endorsements. The congressmen insist it has nothing to do with Crist's tumbling poll numbers, and the Miami Herald has a good theory: that it's related to Crist's having passed over a friend of the brothers for a county judgeship in North Florida. But that occurred in October. Clearly, if the Diaz-Balarts were pissed about that -- or about some other slight -- they didn't want to have bad blood with Crist, who still appeared a heavy favorite back in October. Most likely, it's the same reason Crist's people were willing to offend the Diaz-Balarts. But now that Crist is headed toward political irrelevance, the Diaz-Balarts can afford to hold a grudge.
It's not just a sign that there's a civil war being waged in the Republican Party of Florida. It's a sign that Crist's side is being routed.