Maybe Rush Limbaugh doesn't spend enough time in his Palm Beach home. Because clearly, there's no path back to political relevance for the Republican Party that does not include winning back Florida. And yet the two figures who have the most credibility on that front, governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, are being tossed aside by the radio personality turned voice of the party as well as by others on the party's far right.
During a time when Limbaugh was preaching his hopes that the Obama financial rescue plan fails, Crist was one of the few Republicans who actually responded to the new president's call for bipartisanship, appearing with him at a Fort Myers town hall meeting, despite the condemnation of many within his party.
Bush's bravest effort came earlier this month when he joined Mitt Romney and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor in a suburban Virginia pizza parlor to kick off what they billed as a "listening tour" that would inform the principles of the National Council for a New America.
Following a disastrous Republican presidential campaign whose message -- at least judging by the primary debates and the convention -- consisted of digging up the grave of Ronald Reagan, the party's leaders have inexplicably decided they ought to dig faster. And Jeb Bush cautioned his party faithful to "not be nostalgic," as seen here in his answer to a loaded question by one Limbaugh disciple.
So what do these Florida governors get for their efforts? Crist, who is likely to declare his bid for U.S. Senate this week and who might otherwise have been a sure bet to win it for the GOP, gets abandoned by his party's right wing, which is intent on funding the campaign of a more conservative politician, former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Bush has simply been ridiculed by the GOP's hardcore.
Bush's pizza party was greeted by the party base calls of treason. A column in Right Wing News said
These guys and the rest of the Republicans need to catch a clue that being Democrat Lite doesn't work.
Limbaugh told his listeners that Bush and company are blinded by their hatred of Sarah Palin and that their words ought not be taken at face-value.
It's yet another indication of how ignorant Limbaugh is about Florida: Polls numbers from the election show that Palin polarized the state and that her arrival to the McCain ticket coincided with his slipping slowly from what seemed in August to be a solid lead. Yet he would march her out for the 2012 presidential election.
Not that Crist and Bush are completely alone in their party alienation. After another popular but moderate Republican, Colin Powell, expressed concerns similar to Bush's, Limbaugh told him to join the Democrats, a message he repeated to Sen. John McCain. Sean Hannity and Karl Rove ganged up on Powell in a recent Fox News segment. Yesterday, even Dick Cheney threw Powell under the bus.
So let's get this straight: The party that just lost a Republican Senator in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, is also willing to lose the Republican Senator in Arizona, a revered national figure like Colin Powell, and sabotage the last two governors of Florida, all in the name of party orthodoxy?
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Like Powell, Bush and Crist give Obama credit for a winning campaign that resonated with American voters, a point that doesn't deserve the controversy and outrage its gotten from the right.
This is not to praise the virtue of Crist and Bush. No one should be under any illusion that the two are doing this for any reason except their own ruthless self-interest. Rather, they get credit for being coolheaded in an era of Republican irrationality.
It's possible that the GOP base is having nothing more than a collective primal scream, an emotional reaction which will give way to pragmatism -- and with it, moderation -- as the election draws near. Except that those party leaders are moving irrevocably toward civil war, as evidenced by the Rubio campaign. With the vigor of youth and the millions of conservative donors, Rubio will be able to wage a scorched-earth campaign against Crist that will start this month and end in August 2010. Rubio may be a long shot, but Crist may have been so battered by the primary campaign that he's exhausted, flat-footed next to the campaign of the now-likely Democrat candidate, Kendrick Meek, who will be watching the Republican campaign closely for clues about where those candidates are vulnerable.
For a party that needs every seat in Congress it can get, this is a reckless strategy. And if it keeps listening to the chubby face from West Palm, the GOP just might lose Florida forever.