Today, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he is leaving the Republican Party to become an independent, and will run as an independent for the U.S. Senate seat open this year. Not too long ago, Crist was praised by Republican members of Congress as a “common sense conservative,” and viewed by Republican operatives as a potential 2012 nominee for President on the GOP ticket.
Desperate to help “tea party candidate” Marco Rubio (R-FL) defeat Crist in the primary, right-wing partisans have painted Crist as a liberal who veered left from the Republican Party. There is little substance to support that claim. The right has attacked Crist for voicing support for cap and trade, a free market idea to address global warming, and for openly accepting stimulus money — which economists and Republican governors now agree was absolutely necessary to stave off severe budget cuts and to avert a much deeper recession.
Despite the bluster, Crist is a moderate who built a career out of largely pragmatic decision making, but the modern Republican Party left him. The GOP’s creep to the far right has been steered by well heeled interests. A coalition of sharply ideological big business groups, aided by the Fox News-inspired and lobbyist-run tea parties, have successfully pushed the Republican Party so far to the right that Crist is no longer welcome:
— The Club For Growth, Wall Street’s Top Attack Group: The Club for Growth is funded by top investment bankers and other financial industry types, has a single-minded focus: to kill the income tax, to slash corporate taxes (and broaden corporate tax loopholes), and to eliminate regulations on corporates and the financial sector. The Club was one of the first large groups to go into Florida and start attacking Crist. In early June of 2009, the Club nominated Crist as “Comrade of the Month” along with liberal Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). Soon after, the Club endorsed Rubio and began running brutal attack ads against Crist. According to recent disclosures, the Club is funded by a $1.4 million dollar donation from investor Stephen Jacksons of Stephens Groups Inc, a $1.4 million dollar donation from broker Richard Gilder, and $210,000-$630,000 donations from at least 10 other investors and financial industry professionals.
— FreedomWorks, Orchestrating Tea Parties For Corporate Interests: FreedomWorks is a corporate front group that organized the very first tea party protests, and has used its extensive staff and resources to mobilize rallies and advocacy campaigns on behalf of business interests for years. In Oct. 2007, FreedomWorks began targeting Crist because of his support for cap and trade clean energy programs. In late 2009, FreedomWorks (and Tea Party groups controlled by FreedomWorks’ staffers) began mobilizing support for Rubio — and came out in February of this year to endorse him. FreedomWorks is run by the corporate lobbyist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), as well as by James Burnley, another powerful Washington lobbyist. FreedomWorks is also funded and chaired by Steve Forbes and Frank Sands of Sands Capital Management.
In analyzing the GOP’s far right march, many in the media have wrongly attributed it to the country’s organic reaction against reform. Why were so many moderate Republicans eagerly signing up to repeal health reform — rescinding coverage for tens of millions of Americans and reinstating insurance company abuses? The Club promised to attack any candidate that did not sign a repeal pledge months before the legislation had even passed. Why is even Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), an extremely conservative lawmaker, poised to lose his Republican primary? FreedomWorks and the Club have been quietly organizing against him for a year, aggressively criticizing the senator and even launching a website dedicated to attacking him.
Rubio, who is a policy lightweight tinged with a major corruption scandal, is still worth the investment for his right-wing backers because he truly believes in reflexively rejecting government accountability, social programs, or anything Obama proposes. In 2008 alone, it should be noted that the Club was primarily responsible for drumming moderates Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), and former Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI) out of office. There is a powerful, corporate machine behind the GOP’s so-called “dogmatic race to the bottom” in search for far right candidates. It is not organic.