Is NRSC right to back Crist?

‘No’ is the emphatic response from Erick Erickson of RedState. He objects to the NRSC’s endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist over statehouse Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat. Erickson has launched a public campaign to deter donations to the NRSC.

Ben Hodge of RedCounty has weighed in, defending Erickson and dissecting the NRSC’s reasoning in its original decision and its counter-attacks on Erickson.

I’m not familiar with Crist or Rubio. I’ll take Erickson, Hodge and others at their words that Rubio is the more conservative of the two. But I’ve not heard exactly what the problem with Crist is.

While Florida leans Republican, it is by no means a thoroughly red state. In that environment, Gov. Crist has done well as a Republican. I recall reading good things about from a couple of sources over the years. He has a 64% approval rating currently, no small feat for any Republican today. And the tanned, smooth Crist has the look and feel of Florida, does he not?

While Hodge makes a good case I differ on at least one point of his analysis. He suggests it is not as intuitive as it seems for the NRSC or others to back Crist in the primary on the basis of nominating the most electable general election candidate:

  • “This is not Charlie Crist versus city councilman Marcus Rubio.  This is the Florida Governor Crist versus Speaker of the House Rubio.  The promotion to Speaker of the House, particularly in state government, is generally very difficult to obtain (I will argue far more difficult than most state-wide offices).  These individuals are highly respected, are trusted, and often (for better and worse) they are very politically savvy.
  • “Nor is this incumbent Crist versus Rubio.  This is an open election.”

“A legitimate debate to have, but come on,” writes Hodge.

Rubio may be a talented young conservative with political savvy enough to ascend to to the top of the Florida House. His future is promising, no doubt. But no matter the difficulty and skill required in becoming House Speaker, it does not carry with it anywhere near the political capitol that holding statewide office does, and for that reason I think it is reasonable to assume (as the NRSC does) that yes, Crist is the better suited to win a statewide race of the two.

A statewide office holder has run and won statewide. A state representative – even one serving as Speaker of the House – has been elected only by a tiny fraction of the people of the state. He lacks the constituency or name ID of a statewide official. Crist, in contrast, has won statewide elections three separate times. And he may not be the incumbent Senator, as Hodge points out, but he is the top incumbent statewide officeholder.

In my home state of Missouri, House Speakers have a history of ambition for statewide office. They have a similar history in failing in those ambitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were similar elsewhere. I think as Speaker, you see yourself as a statewide official, and in a sense you are. You are in the upper echelon of the state’s politics and you operate in some ways like a statewide official. You court donors in much the same way that a statewide official does, and for all of those reasons, you tend to think that it’s only natural that you should run for statewide office. Then, you run and realize that you simply don’t have the base that another statewide official or even a congressman has.

Back to Erickson’s war against the NRSC. I think it’s almost always wise to support individual candidates as opposed to party committees and the like. The parties and their committees exist to serve the interests of the party, not a political philosophy. Plus, you never know who’s going to control them. Party composition and leadership change over time. So for that reason alone, I would concur with Erickson that for individual conservatives, there are better ways to make political contributions than giving to the NRSC.

Ultimately, I agree that the NRSC should stay out of this race and primaries generally.  Its role should be to help Republicans win in general elections, not help some win and others lose in primaries. Let Rubio take his message, both on the issues and the issue of his own electability, directly to Florida Republicans without the interference of the NRSC.

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3 Comments

Filed under Conservative Movement, Republican Party

3 responses to “Is NRSC right to back Crist?

  1. Pingback: Principally Political blog attacks NRSC for endorsing Charlie Crist - SaintPetersBlog

  2. Pingback: Principally Politcal blog attacks NRSC for endorsing Crist | SaintPeterBlog

  3. Brian,

    All valid points, and none of them incorrect. I’m not about to say it’s an easy decision, or perhaps even a clear one. It’s all highly subjective, when you get into debates about the “correct” candidate in a primary race.

    I think the “flags” are raised by conservatives (and our higher frustration exists) given not just 1-2 situations, but multiple ones:
    1. It’s not like the NRSC can point to lots of recent success. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not blaming the NRSC as the top first or second reason for our current 40-seat reality — indeed, the fact that they’re not to blame points to their limited effectiveness (and how so many other factors are proportionally more important than they used to be, compared to the national party structure; I recall that Jay Cost at RCP has highlighted the gradually diminishing impact of political parties). But at best a 50-50 record in recent years. In hindsight, I think all Republicans were under-estimating the impact of national security (9-11, Iraq War, etc) in terms of being a benefit in 2002 and 2004 (these were things largely outside the control of the NRSC).
    2. Chafee and Specter: While conservatives have every right to grumble, I’m not sure that many of us blamed the NRSC for backing Chafee and Specter, for two reasons. First, and most importantly, they were incumbents. Second, they were in more heavily Democrat-leaning states (than Florida). But the larger issue with them came later, with party-switching: We (on the ground, outside of Washington) rely on groups like the NRSC to do what we cannot, and that is have “insider info” on these candidates; clearly, the NRSC did not know Specter and Chafee like we needed them to. That is a clear failure.
    3. The NRSC will, no doubt, not be as conservative on the issue of immigration as many would prefer. Fine — but don’t THEN entirely ignore a major Hispanic figure within the Florida GOP.
    4. Hypocrisy on the wasteful “stimulus” bill: they will be quick to criticize Specter on this, but then they will ignore Crist’s support for the legislation.
    5. Crist on judges (activism) — questionable.
    6. Jeb Bush, whom I will argue is more conservative than most elected state-wide GOP officials nation-wide: he’s been silent. It would carry more weight if he would have opently supported the decision (perhaps he has behind the scenes, I don’t know).

    If a few of the above points were different, I’d be easier on the NRSC. Two of the bigger ones, I think are the lack of recent success (goes to strategy decisions) and the lack of foresight on Specter/Chafee switching parties.

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