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Charlie Crist Officially a Democrat

Charlie Crist, run out of the Republican Party, is now a Democrat.

Tampa Bay Times (“Charlie Crist signs papers to become a Democrat“):

It was just a matter of time. Charlie Crist is becoming a Democrat.

Crist — Florida’s former Republican governor who relished the tough-on-crime nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” and used to describe himself variously as a “Ronald Reagan Republican” and a “Jeb Bush Republican” — on Friday evening signed papers changing his party from independent to Democrat.

He did so during a Christmas reception at the White House, where President Barack Obama greeted the news with a fist bump for the man who had a higher profile campaigning for Obama’s re-election this year than any Florida Democrat.

The widely expected move positions Crist, 56, for another highly anticipated step: announcing his candidacy for governor, taking on Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and an untold number of Democrats who would challenge him for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

“I’ve had friends for years tell me, ‘You know Charlie, you’re a Democrat and you don’t know it,’ ” Crist, a career-long populist, recounted Friday night from Washington, D.C.

Crist has been registered with no party affiliation since the spring of 2010, when his Republican candidacy for U.S. Senate was fizzling against Republican upstart Marco Rubio. Since losing that race, he has been steadily inching toward the Democratic Party, first when his wife, Carole, switched her affiliation to Democrat and later when he threw himself into Obama’s re-election campaign, earning a prominent speaking slot during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Critics from both parties sniff that Crist is merely looking for an avenue back into public office and is willing to throw out his principles to achieve the goal.

That criticism is doubtless true. He was, after all, content to run as a Republican for the Senate just two years ago and would, presumably, be a happy Republican–and have happily campaigned for Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama—had he beaten Marco Rubio in the primary and gone on the win.

On the other hand, Crist has long held views that clashed with the Republican orthodoxy and that became problematic in an era where purity and loyalty tests have been demanded.

Crist has been consistently opposed to taxes and gun control laws, but in many respects his record is appealing to Democratic activists and donors alike.

He has been a strong supporter of higher pay for teachers. He works for a leading trial lawyer. He was a leading advocate for civil rights as governor and attorney general. And though he describes himself as “pro-life,” his voting record in the Legislature was mostly in favor of abortion rights. He has long been more of a populist than a pro-big business Republican.

“What changed is the leadership of the Republican Party,” Crist said in a phone interview Friday night. “As I said at the convention, I didn’t leave the Republican Party, it left me. Whether the issue was immigration, or education, or you name it — the environment. I feel at home now.”

Of course, he’s by no means at home in the Democratic Party and will likely find himself in much the same boat. The difference is that it’s possible to get elected in Florida as a conservative Democrat whereas it’s become increasingly difficult to even get nominated as a liberal Republican. He’s right that the leadership of the Republican Party has changed and that there’s less tolerance for diversity of views. But the notion that there’s been some radical shift since the 2010 primaries is a hard sell.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    Correct, the leadership hasn’t changed since 2010 but that election cycle was probably the last straw for many who were trying to hang on. For myself it was the Reagan years and the rise of the religious right. Also when business captured the fundies and gave birth to dogma-based economics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. al-Ameda says:

    I’ve always wondered the Democratic Party wasn’t the beneficiary of more change overs. For years the flow has typically been from the Democratic Party to the GOP – disaffected Southern whites, cold war defense hawks, etc …. It mystified me as to why politicians like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe stayed on and took the abuse from their own party.

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  3. Tillman says:

    This reminds me of superdestroyer’s rant concerning how conservatives will only manage to get elected in Democratic primaries now.

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  4. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Ultimately, we’ll take anyone who is serious about wanting to actually govern and can put up with our fractious craziness. So, welcome aboard, Chuck.

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  5. bill says:

    enjoy him, he won’t be missed.

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  6. stonetools says:

    Charlie Crist’s politics strike me as somewhere close to GHWB circa 1980-which would make him a Blue Dog Democrat today.The Overton window has shifted that far to the right.

    Crist is going to roll over Scott like a tsunami. Florida can’t wait to vote out that disaster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “It mystified me as to why politicians like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe stayed on and took the abuse from their own party. ”

    Money. IIRC, when Snowe announced her retirement some report went over her rough finances; she and her husband are worth many millions.

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  8. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    Anyone under the age of 40 who wants a career in politics will have to be a Democrat. Thus, there are probably many temperamental conservatives who are in office or will run for office as Democrats. However, political scientist have notice that many politicians who start out as moderates drift to the left as they are politics longer since the longer they are in politics, the more likely they will see every problem as needing a government solution.

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  9. Eric Florack says:

    At the bottom line, Christ changed parties, because the only people that were taking him seriously anymore were the far leftist Democrats

    Don’t let the door bump your butt on the way out.

    if there’s any purging it needs going on in the GOP , it’s moronic RINOs like Christ.

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  10. Laurence Bachmann says:

    @Eric Florack: What seems moronic is to not make peace with those RINOS you hold in contempt. You can’t win without moderates like him or Collins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Questing for ideological purity will just reduce your party to being the most homogenous minority to ever field a candidate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @Eric Florack: Well, if you think you can win an election with 27% support…..

    Yeah, I know, math is a liberal conspiracy. You can always blame your losses on ACORN.

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