Charlie Crist and the Closing of the Republican mind

It’s official — Charlie Crist is becoming an independent.

It’s another sign of the striking moves to the right the Republican Party has taken since Barack Obama’s inauguration. Crist was always on the less-conservative half of the GOP spectrum, but his main sins have been things that would have been considered banal a few years ago. There used to be a bunch of Republicans who supported climate change legislation and “governor of cash-strapped state supports federal law to help close the hole in his budget” is like the ultimate dog bites man story. But in today’s “everything Barack Obama supports must be evil” climate on the right, there’s no room for Crist.

Still, this isn’t nearly as shocking as the way Utah Senator Bob Bennett has gotten drummed out of the party. Bennett isn’t even a slightly moderate Republican — his sin is to have cosponsored a bill that would have replaced public sector insurance programs with private insurance, and then given private insurance to people who currently have no insurance.

If conventional pundit wisdom about how politics works were correct, this new much-more-rightwing GOP would be heading for an electoral debacle. Fortunately for conservatives, however, in the real world economic fundamentals trump policy positions and they should do fine in 2010 unless the economy starts growing faster than expected.