U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has enjoyed a long political career by mostly allowing the populist winds to carry him along.
For example, back when he was a Republican, and the GOP was cementing its grasp on state government and the Florida electorate, Crist was once known as “Chain Gang Charlie” because he called for reviving road crews made up of state inmates.
Yet since becoming a Democrat in more liberal Pinellas County a few years ago, Crist has gone full woke. FiveThirtyEight.com reported last month that he has voted with President Joe Biden 100 percent of the time.
Through this metamorphosis, however, Crist has maintained a reputation as a genuinely nice and caring man.
For instance, on April 1, Politico featured a fawning piece about Crist and his bid to topple Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. It used words like “uniter,” and noted he wears yellow wristbands to recall the Golden Rule. Crist was asked how he evolved from a tougher-than-nails Republican to a squishy Democrat.
“Running on decency and mutual respect,” Crist answered. “I love people. And I feel for ’em right now. Gay people. Women. Blacks. They’re getting the crap kicked out of ’em by this guy [DeSantis]. It’s wrong. Somebody has to stop him.”
Yet with one comment on Sunday, Crist belied that quote, and perhaps his whole argument to be the next governor.
At an event in Manatee County with his rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination – state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo – Crist said Florida could not take “four more years, two more years, one more day” under DeSantis.
With his push for parental rights and the end of COVID-19 restrictions, the incumbent, Crist said, seeks to “score political points with red meat, hard right, toothless crowd.” He drew strong applause with the remark.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the comment was never raised again during the forum.
But the implication was obvious, raising the specter of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s comment in 2016 that Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.”
To revisit that moment, which may have helped seal Clinton’s defeat, especially in rural states, Clinton said:
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
When asked about the remark afterward, Crist’s campaign went into hyperspin mode.
Samantha Ramirez, Crist’s spokeswoman, told the Herald-Tribune, “Charlie was referring to the toothless, spineless crowd that aids and abets DeSantis’s crusade to hurt, rather than help Floridians – the legislators, lobbyists, and special interests who bend to his whims and only care about delivering red meat for their base.”
“To imply that he meant anything else is nonsense.”
Sure. Except that’s not what he actually said.
And ironically, it was not the Republicans who immediately seized on Crist’s insult of GOP voters.
Fried posted about it on social media Monday morning after the story came out, saying, “Floridians aren’t ‘toothless’ because they don’t vote for you, Charlie Crist. You’d think after three statewide losses you’d know better.”
Fried’s camp piled on later on Monday, when Fried’s spokesman Keith Edwards shared Crist’s insult on Twitter, and wrote, “This is how you lose Florida for the 4th time: by mocking voters.”
Crist perhaps needs a reminder that the “deplorables” helped carry Trump to victory twice in Florida; in 2018, pushed a relatively unknown DeSantis into the governor’s office, where he now commands a national following among the GOP; and as of last year, surpassed Democrats among registered voters for the first time since the Sunshine State joined the union in 1845.