Charlie Crist — beyond flip-flopping

Flip-flopping has become (and maybe always has been) a common political practice. John Kerry was for the war in Iraq before he was against it. Mitt Romney changed his position on some important social issues and arguably on health care reform, though he never repudiated Romneycare, which is distinguishable from Obamacare.

As for President Obama, he characterizes his flip-flops as evolved thinking, as befits a man of his sophistication. Few believe he’s actually evolving, though.

And that’s kind of the point. Everyone knew that Kerry at heart was never really for the Iraq war. Everyone understands that Romney is either a moderate with conservative tendencies or (more likely) a conservative with moderate tendencies. And everyone realizes that Obama is a man of the left but pragmatic enough not to lay all of his cards on the table at once.

This doesn’t excuse their flip-flopping, but does make it less of an affront to the political system than those of us who denounce it presume.

Then there’s Charlie Crist. As Jim Geraghty shows, Crist hasn’t just flip-flopped on this or that issue; he’s completely reinvented his political views. There is a real, ideologically knowable John Kerry. Same with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Same with Marco Rubio, despite his spectacular immigration flip-flopping.

Not so with Charlie Crist. There’s no discernible substantive there there.

Consider some of Geraghty’s examples. On Obamacare, probably the most important issue of the last five years, Crist said in 2010:

The Obama health-care bill was too big, too expensive, and expanded the role of government far too much. Had I been in the United States Senate at that time, I would have voted against the bill because of unacceptable provisions like the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. . . .Obamacare was off the charts, was wrong. It taxed too much, has mandates that are probably unconstitutional, and it’s not the way to go.

Pretty definitive, huh? But here is what Crist says now:

[Obamacare] is the right thing to do. Our country needed to do it. I’m glad he did it. I’m glad we have it, and it’ll continue to improve, I believe [in it]. . . .I won’t shy away from it. I think it’s the right thing to do. And I feel that in my heart.

Crist’s also has a place in his heart for voter fraud. It wasn’t always so. In 2008, Crist signed the “No Match, No Vote” law, which requires a would-be voter’s driver’s-license number or the last four digits of his Social Security number to match listings in the state database before he can cast a ballot. But today he finds that these sorts of efforts “make a mockery of the democracy we put on display every Election Day.”

As much of a mockery as fraudulent candidates make?

If Crist can’t be consistent on Obamacare and voter fraud, what are the chances that he has been consistent about gay marriage? None, it turns out.

In previous campaigns he pledged to “support a constitutional amendment that honors traditional marriage as an institution.” In 2010, he said civil unions are “fine, but I support marriage between a man and a woman.” But now Crist supports same-sex marriage.

Geraghty’s list of Crist flip-flops extends to nearly every important political issue of the day. But let’s wrap this up with two more examples.

In 2010, Crist vetoed a bill that would have required most women to pay for an ultrasound before seeking an abortion But in 2006, he had pledged to sign a bill that only permitted abortions to save the life of the mother.

Finally, in 2010 Crist sought a special session of the state legislature to permanently ban oil drilling in state waters. But in 2008 he had called for ending the federal ban on offshore drilling.

Who, then, is the real Charlie Crist? That’s easy. He’s a cynical, dishonest opportunist — a man with no principles who will say anything to advance his political career. The political practices of Kerry, Romney, Obama, Rubio aren’t saintly. But they are a world apart from Crist’s.

I can’t wait for Crist to say (as he probably has already) that he hasn’t changed, the Republican Party changed.

The most interesting question is whether the Democrats will nominate this transparent phony for public office. It’s pretty clear that the Republicans wouldn’t. And it wouldn’t just be the Tea Party that rejected a former down-the-line liberal passing himself off as a born-again conservative.

With the Democrats it’s less clear. For them, the will to power seems to trump everything including, I suspect, Crist’s lack of any foundation other than ambition. The issue for Democrats will probably not be Crist’s shocking impurity, but their sense of whether the electorate can stomach such a sleaze.

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