Charlie Crist gives political opportunism a bad name. In a U.S. Senate campaign marked by the most epic flip-flops since Captain Ahab hooked Moby Dick, Crist performed his most thrillingly acrobatic change of direction yet last week when he claimed that he planned all along to run as an independent rather than a Republican. Those silly old polls that showed him losing the GOP nomination by 30 points to Marco Rubio, he said, had nothing to do with it.
"If you had been 20 points up in the polls over Mr. Rubio, would you have left the party to run as an independent?" Crist was asked in a meeting with the Palm Beach Post editorial board.
"Absolutely," replied Crist. "Yes, I absolutely would have. Because I think it's that important. Sure I would have."
"You were here in late February and said 'I don't see myself running as an independent,' " replied an incredulous Post staffer.
"Well, you know, things do evolve and they change," Crist shrugged, although he may have been trying to explain why his nose had grown three feet in 10 seconds.
When scientists talk about evolution, they're speaking in terms of millions of years. When Charlie talks about it, he means millions of seconds. Just last March, he said he was "very proud to be from the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, others that really have stood up for our party, like Ronald Reagan." By April, he was running as an independent. By July, he said being a Republican meant pandering to the right wing "and I just don't have to do that anymore . . . I'm very happy about it." And now he says he never intended to run as a Republican at all.
The amazing thing is that Charlie's progress from the party of Lincoln to Abe Who? has been measured and deliberate compared with many of his political zig-zags. "The new time to beat: Four hours and 24 minutes," exclaimed the amazed Orlando Sentinel last month. "That's how long it took for the governor to take a stand last week -- and then reverse himself." In the morning, Crist had demanded an independent investigation into wrongful felony convictions in Brevard County; by mid-afternoon, he was un-demanding it.
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