Crist Leaving Republicans, Running as Independent or Democrat?

charlie-crist-leaving-republicansResponding to rumors that Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who’s getting crushed by Marco Rubio in the primary polling, will leave the Republican Party and run as an independent, Ezra Klein sees “a huge coup for Democrats.”

The best possible storyline for them going into the 2010 election is that the Republican Party’s apparatus has been captured by extremists and ideologues. If Crist leaves — which will follow Arlen Specter’s defection and the Republican mess in New York’s 23rd District — that’ll go a long way towards cementing the impression that the modern GOP is no place for moderates.

Conversely, it would be bad for Democrats — and I’d say for the country — if Crist simply loses to Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. The better conservatives get at mounting effective primary challenges against moderate Republicans, the more impossible it is for moderate Republicans serving in Congress to act like anything but hardline conservatives. The result isn’t party discipline so much as ideological rigidity, and it ensures that compromise on pretty much anything will be totally impossible. The only way to stop that trend is to convince Republicans it’s bad for them: New York’s 23rd already went for a Democrat, and now if Specter leaves and wins, and Crist leaves and wins, that’ll really discredit the effectiveness of the primary approach at electing conservative alternatives.

While I agree with Ezra’s general point that the GOP needs to be careful of running of moderates, I disagree in this instance.

Joe Lieberman’s Democratic primary loss –  less than six years after he’d been his party’s VP nominee! — and subsequent victory as an “Independent Democrat” didn’t seem to hurt the Democrats any.  Nor did we see a groundswell of “Oh, gee, we’re clearly too dogmatic — let’s rethink” talk among Dems.  Indeed, they went right on to gain seats in 2006 and take back the White House and pick up yet more seats in 2008.

Specter didn’t leave the GOP out of principle but because he was going to lose in the primary.  Thankfully, it looks like he might lose in the other party’s primary now.  And that he’d face an uphill fight in the general if he does get the Democratic nomination.

Similarly, if Crist bolts, it’ll be out of political calculation, not some “my party has left me” nonsense.  I haven’t followed Florida politics all that closely and don’t fully understand why Crist has alienated himself from the Republican base so much.  But Marco Rubio seems to be a better candidate all around.

If Specter leaves and loses and Crist leaves and loses, what message will that send?

UPDATE (Dodd): Crist denies having plans to leave the GOP and ininuates that such rumours are actually coming from the Rubio camp to deflect from ” bad news days.” Given the size of Rubio’s lead, the latter seems fairly unlikely.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:


    That first link popped up a malware warning on Chrome. You might want to double-check.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Weird. I was getting a wonky link on mouseover, too, but it’s correctly pointed to the Florida Sentinel’s website in the backend. And now it’s right up front. I dunno…

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Shorter Klein,

    “Yay, we are going to get a two faced S.O.B. who can’t stand by his prinicples!!!”

  4. Drew says:

    Good. We don’t need to call the pest man.

  5. just me says:

    Similarly, if Crist bolts, it’ll be out of political calculation, not some “my party has left me” nonsense.

    Agreed. i suspect in cases like this it is more often than not about not winning in the primary than some kind of altruistic “my party left me” BS.

    I have no doubts that if Crist weren’t losing he wouldn’t be leaving.

  6. Triumph says:

    Christ will never be a Democrat. The Democrat Party is the party of Muhammad.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Good. We don’t need to call the pest man.

    Who knew that Tom Delay was still relevant…