Here's another example of how Republican activists, consultants and Washington politicians are disconnected from reality. They are criticizing Gov. Charlie Crist for his bipartisanship and for supporting the economic stimulus package that will send billions to Florida. They need to take another look at the November election results, the state's rising unemployment rate and the governor's approval ratings.
Voters responded to Barack Obama's call for a change in tone and approach to politics, for an effort to move beyond partisan fights and ideological rigidity. That resonated with Florida's Republican governor, whose populist approach during his first two years in office has produced consistently high voter approval ratings and changed the atmosphere in Tallahassee. So it should have come as no surprise that Crist supported the stimulus package and stood beside the Democratic president when he visited Fort Myers this week.
Yet Republican conservatives talk as though Crist is a traitor and has ruined his political future. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth and consultant Alex Castellanos were among those who told Times political editor Adam C. Smith that Crist is hurting himself within his own party. Even Republican Sen. Mel Martinez took a shot and questioned whether Crist understood what he was endorsing. Their dire warnings underscore how the conservative Republican base is isolating itself and drifting further from the mainstream.
Crist is antitax to a fault, and he is hardly a spendthrift. He is pragmatic, and the stimulus money will help ease the state's budget crisis (even if it is not likely to erase the need for more revenue as the governor hopes). He also is more in touch with Florida's pain than the Republicans in the state's congressional delegation. The state is second only to California in home foreclosures, and the unemployment rate is over 8 percent and climbing. Floridians need help, and the stimulus package will send $7.6 billion for road construction, health care, education and other needs.
Friday morning, Crist stood between Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio — a Democrat — and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker — a Republican — to thank Congress for the stimulus package and to stress its significance for Florida. Hours later, every Republican member of Florida's congressional delegation voted against it. Crist will never be mistaken for a policy wonk, but do not underestimate his political instincts. If Republicans are to regain any of the ground they lost in November in Florida and the nation, the governor's path looks more promising than the one taken by the partisan hacks and ideological purists.