Florida Gov. Charlie Crist faced off with David Gregory on NBC's Meet the Press a few minutes ago. Crist started by stressing the importance of bipartisan support for President Obama's stimulus package, then ended by... well... essentially withdrawing his own support for the package.
Host Gregory began the interview by asking about Crist's appearance with Obama at the town hall in meeting in Fort Myers a few weeks ago -- an appearance that aggravated national Republicans who were trying to construct a united front in opposition to the plan. "Why would you buck your own party?" asked Gregory.
"It's not a matter of bucking the party," Crist answered. "It's a matter of helping people... This stimulus package will help Florida an awful lot." The governor argued that in the face of such a dire national predicament, party politics must be put aside. "There are times when you're in a crisis and we all need to work together to get through those times." He praised the stimulus package for its attention to Medicaid, its spending for road construction, and how it will help Florida give public-school teachers a raise.
So supportive was Crist that Gregory whipped out a Herald quote from Republican consultant Alex Castellanos about how the episode had damaged the governor's future with the national party, leading Gregory to ask, "Are you an Obama Republican?"
"I'm a Florida Republican," Crist answered. "In Florida we work across the aisle." (Yeah, those House Republicans displayed some epic bipartisanship during January's special session on the state budget.)
At any rate, it seemed as though Crist had staked himself politically to the Obama stimulus package. Gregory asked about the mortgage modification plan, an aspect of the bill that seemed to bail out home buyers who lied about their income to get a mortgage at the expense of more responsible consumers. Crist didn't try to defend it; he admitted this might be bad policy, a point that astonished Gregory enough to ask again whether Crist, in his capacity as Florida governor, supported the stimulus.
"I think we might," said Crist, speaking for all Floridians. Measuring his words carefully, he said, "We don't support it. We have to look over it and review it."
Supports the plan. Might support it. Doesn't support it. That pretty much covers every base. Now whether the plan's a huge success, an abysmal failure, or just kinda hard to draw a conclusion from, Crist is covered politically. Brilliant!
Gregory tried to get Crist to declare his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez -- and I'd been wondering whether that might be the surprise behind Crist's national TV appearance. But Crist brushed the question aside, saying, "I don't know. I'm focused on Florida."
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Crist's appearance followed one by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who's being groomed to be the Republican Obama -- a young, charismatic candidate with an ethnically mixed background who can turn the political world on its head. Or at least give the Republican Party a leader. Gregory asked Crist who the party's leader was at the present moment.
His answer: "The people."
That's just silly, of course. People are followers. Gregory asked again for a national leader. Crist said, "There is not." Then, in a soundbite that's going to annoy the national GOP anew, Crist said, "There's one national leader. His name is President Obama."
Man! I suppose Crist figures that the party has no choice but to rally behind him when he declares for U.S. Senate, but he'd better be careful he doesn't overplay his hand.