Gov. Charlie Crist touted his sunny, bipartisan brand of politics on national TV Sunday, as deep Republican divisions over the economic stimulus package were on full display.
"There are times when you're in a crisis and we all need to work together in order to get through those crises. And I think that this is one of those times,'' Crist said on NBC's Meet the Press.
Crist has taken criticism from fellow Republicans for embracing the Democrats' $789 billion stimulus bill, including from Jeb Bush's son on Saturday.
"There's some in our party that want to assume that government is the answer to all of our problems," George P. Bush, 32, told a gathering of young Republicans in Orlando. He also told the Associated Press that Crist had hurt himself among Republicans.
"That will be on his track record and people are going to remember that," Bush said, noting that Crist is running the risk of falling in the "D light" category of Republicans. "There are numerous actions that I have seen legislatively that do not speak to a strong conservative, it speaks more to a moderate. That's fine, but when you run as a conservative and then you lead as a moderate, that's one thing that any leader would have to reconcile."
But Crist is not unique among Republican governors standing behind President Obama's economic agenda. Even as Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mark Sanford of South Carolina panned the stimulus package on the Sunday talk shows, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger echoed Crist.
"I think that President Obama right now needs team players," Schwarzenegger said on ABC's This Week. "You've got to go beyond just the principles. You've got to go and say, 'What is right for the country right now?' "
Jindal and Barbour say they will reject part of the federal package that increases unemployment benefits by $25 a week, financed entirely with federal money, because it could increase employer taxes.
Not a single Florida Republican in Congress supported the stimulus package, but Crist has emerged as among its highest profile advocates. He said Sunday that Republicans "may be" damaging themselves by opposing the stimulus, and he repeatedly stressed the importance of reaching across the aisles.
"I'm a Florida Republican. And in the Florida way, we work together in a bipartisan fashion to do what's right for the people,'' said Crist, who told Meet the Press' David Gregory he was not ready to say that he supports Obama's less controversial housing plan that includes mortgage modifications for people in danger of losing homes to foreclosure.
Crist declined to discuss the possibility of running for U.S. Senate in 2010, and, unlike Jindal, he was not asked about a presidential run in 2012. The Florida governor also declined to identify a leader of the national GOP.
"The people. The people are the leader of the party,'' Crist responded. "Well, there is a national leader, his name is President Obama. And, and the people elected him. And, and I'm willing to give him a good shot and, and try to help make this work."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8241.