Opinion: Florida’s Rubio and Crist Senate struggle is settled, revealing GOP turmoil and Tea Party clout


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While the nation’s political attention was riveted Monday on Vice President Joe Biden’s latest closed meetings with ‘senior advisers,’ the Florida Republican Senate primary race was settled.

All right, no one cares about JB’s meetings even with junior advisers. And the attention was actually focused more on his boss’s quick overnight visit to Los Angeles to harvest a few million more California dollars for Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic National Committee’s uphill campaign climb this fall.


As The Ticket reported here Monday night, the Democrat president was heckled by gays angry over his unwillingness/inability to lift the ‘Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell’ military policy, despite repeated promises and pleas for patience.

Meanwhile in another state famous for sunshine, Mitt Romney endorsed former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP Senate primary over incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist. And on the same day the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Ron Jesmer, basically unendorsed Crist and pronounced him politically dead for now.

Other than that, a pretty quiet day on the GOP front.

The moves are fascinating simultaneous examples of several things: the varying....

...currents roiling the party of Lincoln left leaderless nationally by the simultaneous departures of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the evolving strength and influence of the Tea Party movement within and without the GOP, the clubiness of professional politicians and the immutable law of what-goes-around-comes-around, good and bad. OK, see if you can follow along because it’s very revealing about how contemporary American politics functions:

Crist was seen early as the odds-on favorite for the Republican nomination and quite possibly the seat vacated unexpectedly by Republican Mel Martinez. But remember a year ago when President Obama went to Florida to tout his massive $787 billion economic stimulus plan and the Republican governor showed up professing job concerns? Crist got a friendly, but lethal Obama hug on-stage.

That kind of symbolic GOP political sedition coincided with the grassroots emergence of the often independent Tea Party, a movement opposed to large government taxes, to large government bailing out large companies and to large government spending large sums of little taxpayers’ money, whatever party is involved.

Enter Rubio, the heretofore little-known son of Cuban immigrants who positioned himself as opposed to all things big government and Obama.

In ensuing months, as Rubio received the kind of interstate Tea Party support that benefited Scott Brown in his unlikely January Massachusetts Senate victory, Crist’s once unbeatable 31-point poll margin melted into what now seems an insurmountable Rubio lead.

Last year when Crist’s win was a gimme, the Republican Senate committee led by Texas Sen. John Cornyn routinely endorsed him as the establishment candidate.


Florida Republicans had other ideas that, once again, didn’t match D.C. thinking.

Now as the filing deadline nears for the state’s Aug. 24 primary, Crist has not squelched rumors he’s pondering an independent candidacy. Polls show him finishing third in such a race, but he could cut into Rubio’s support come fall.

To save face for Cornyn and attempt to pressure Crist, Jesmer, the executive director, sent out an unusual and unsolicited e-mail memo Monday noon to Republican strategists across the country, pronouncing Crist’s Republican candidacy dead this time and urging everyone to convince the governor to drop out completely.

To ensure that the memo leaked immediately, Jesmer called it ‘a quick off-the-record assessment.’ That worked perfectly. Crist was forced to deny that such pressure would have any effect and said he was still considering his options.

Jesmer said the committee would support Rubio no matter what Crist did and added: ‘We have communicated this message indirectly (to Crist) and would have given it to the governor directly had he returned Senator Cornyn’s phone call.” Take that, you insolent governor who won’t call back an important U.S. senator.

Now, here’s the revealing payback part: During the 2007-08 year of competition for the Republican presidential nomination, many wannabe nominees sought Crist’s endorsement, among them Romney, former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain.

In the end Crist endorsed McCain. In return this year, McCain endorsed Crist for this race, despite McCain’s own re-election troubles with a conservative challenger in Arizona and his seemingly contradictory campaign support from Tea Party fave Sarah Palin, who was herself paying McCain back for picking her as his VP partner in 2008.

However, Huckabee and Giuliani endorsed Rubio. And Monday Romney joined them, denouncing government bailouts and adding, ‘We’re saying we want to let Americans pursue their own dreams.’ Whatever that means.

The endorsement of an ex-Massachusetts governor is unlikely to have any real voter impact in Florida.

But it does add to the impression of Rubio’s momentum, to the isolation of Crist and, well beyond Florida, sends a strong signal to Republican candidates and activists elsewhere about the strength of the conservative currents growing during this midterm election year -- and, if they are successful on Nov. 2, in the ensuing two years leading up to 2012.

-- Andrew MalcolmYou can get Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item by clicking here. Or follow us @latimestot. You can also join our Facebook FAN page here.