Although I’m not unhappy that Marco Rubio pushed Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary in Florida, I am appalled by Richard Lowry’s attack on those who draw a comparison between the careers of Crist and Joe Lieberman. Apparently the senator from Connecticut, who won re-election as an independent in 2008 after losing in the Democratic primary, is a courageous man “who staked his career on his support of the Iraqi War.” According to Lowry, “If it had been Crist, he would have switched his position on the war and quit his party only if his gambit failed.”
Lowry may be driven by eoconservative to deny what he himself regards as an “inevitable” comparison. But since he and I do not represent the same interests, perhaps I can speak for those who are making the comparison. Crist and Lieberman could not win primaries in which had expected to prevail, so each decided to run for the Senate as an independent. Crist will probably fail to achieve his goal, while Lieberman won handily in Connecticut, running outside the two-party system. Neither of the two seems to be without convictions; indeed, many of their political views overlap. They are both social liberals who backed the Bush-McCain foreign policy. Lieberman did so as a Democrat, while Crist took these stands as a McCain Republican. Notably, both politicians endorsed McCain in 2008 and were regarded as possible running mates for him.
When Lieberman ran in 2006, the Connecticut Republican Party pulled out all stops to get him reelected. In fact, the GOP all but abandoned its own Senate candidate, Alan Schlesinger, leaving him without a base of support. The orphaned Schlesinger won about four percent of the vote. This vile behavior on the part of the GOP and its neoconservative advisors has been richly rewarded. They now have Lieberman in the Senate, who has become a Democrat again, voting consistently with President Obama.
What makes Crist’s story different is that the GOP just doesn’t need him anymore. The Florida governor was acceptable to Lowry when he was campaigning for Crist’s friend McCain, and there was talk on Fox in the summer of 2008 about his suitability as a vice presidential candidate. But then Crist fell under the weight of a credit-card scandal, in which his Florida administration was demonstrably entangled, and he’s been lurching back and forth on various issues ever since, first in order to catch up with a savvier, younger opponent who outflanked on the right and now to stand out as an independent candidate.
Crist’s primary campaign was a disaster marked by awkward attempts to reach out to Democratic constituencies. But from what I can see, he is what he claims to be, a social liberal who is a friend of business and favors an activist foreign policy. He was also the candidate of the Republican establishment — and most effusively of GOP Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who actively campaigned for Crist until he began to tank. Critst’s Cuban-American opponent came from nowhere to overwhelm him, and now the GOP establishment is stuck with someone it didn’t originally want.
The “inevitable” comparison between Crist and Lieberman is based on the fact that two politicians with similar views tried to keep their careers alive after one of the two national parties rejected them. Lieberman was luckier than Crist because GOP powerbrokers and mediacrats rallied to him after he had stumbled in the Democratic primary. During his last campaign, what Lieberman thought about late-term abortion and affirmative-action programs mattered less than what he said about foreign policy. This doesn’t show that he is more courageous or consistent than Crist. As a flip-flopper, Lieberman may be unexcelled. In September 1998 he won credit for his “conservative” streak by denouncing Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Then Lieberman turned around and voted against impeaching his fellow Democrat for perjury. He also famously inveighed against Obama’s “government health plan” in December 2009, before supporting it in March. By then Lieberman had done enough to placate the big insurance companies in Hartford, and he was free to vote with his party. Alas, his independence may be too ethereal for me to grasp.