In the beginning, Charlie Crist was a Republican. And he was a Republican not in the usual way of Republicans, here favoring anti-gay statutes, there supporting abortion rights, championing strict second amendment observances on the one hand, but supporting President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on the other. It was almost as though he couldn’t decide what he wanted to be when he grew up, politically speaking.
He’s been many things, Florida state Senator, Florida attorney general, governor of Florida and, most recently, Congressman from the 13 district. But he decided to switch from Republican to Democrat on December 7, 2012, and has remained a Democrat ever since.
Today Charlie Crist wants to unseat Ron DeSantis as governor of the state of Florida. If he wins he will be that rare thing, perhaps that unique thing, a one time Republican governor of a state who came back and became a Democratic governor of a state. And don’t underestimate him. He just might do it.
It is difficult to rationally fault Crist’s approach. Crist is running as a uniter while DeSantis, in typical Republican (and typical DeSantis) style, runs as a vilifier and a divider. While Crist looks for solutions, DeSantis looks for enemies. It’s a dangerous road for DeSantis to take, because campaigns based on hate cannot have universal appeal by definition. Unifiers such as Crist, on the other hand, can potentially attract voters from any position.
But Crist isn’t completely unifying. Crist’s attacks on DeSantis are nevertheless relentless and justifiably unsparing. “He’s abusive. He is a bully. … He’s dangerous,” Crist has said of DeSantis. Crist also underscores the embarrassing reality that white supremacists and neo-Nazis support DeSantis, and DeSantis remains unwilling to denounce them.
Crist has promised to make it easier to vote by making Election Day a state holiday. He also promises to sign an executive order protecting abortion rights and to reinstate the Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, whom DeSantis suspended for declaring he would not prosecute women seeking an abortion. Crist also criticised DeSantis for refusing to call out Republican lieutenant governor Jeanette Nuñez for suggesting Cubans “illegally” in the state should be bussed to Delaware.
Should Crist win the state he will become an important bulwark against Trumpism, proving that even in a red-trending state like Florida, Donald Trump’s appeal is dying out. A Crist win could be a harbinger of the death of Trumpism in other places.
Equally important, by beating DeSantis he will make it harder for DeSantis to win the presidency in 2024. Voters will rightly wonder how DeSantis can win if he can’t hang on to his own state. In so doing, Charlie Crist might turn out to be one of America’s saviours. And wouldn’t that be ironic? And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.