Senator John Cornyn took a lot of heat last year when, as chair of the NRSC, he endorsed Florida Governor Charlie Crist in a Republican primary against state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who had already declared for the race to replace the retiring Mel Martinez. The decision helped to propel Rubio to Tea Party stardom and force the Republican establishment to eschew involvement in contested primaries, especially for open seats. Ten months later, Cornyn still stands by Crist, although he’s signaling an obvious lack of enthusiasm for his endorsed candidate:
Meeting with reporters today, Cornyn said he is “honor-bound” to leave his endorsement as it is. Crist faces a tough primary against ex-state House Speaker Marco Rubio, a darling of the conservative right. Cornyn is not going to lift a finger against the insurgent Rubio.
Cornyn explained that he made the call before the primary became a race, when he “selfishly” went looking for the most popular politician who could raise the most money — hardly a vociferous defense of the candidate Cornyn has long touted as a virtual shoo-in for the seat. …
“So I think our posture here is I endorsed Gov. Crist early on, really before this became a real contest. I’m not going to do anything to change that. I think I’m honor-bound to leave it as it is, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be spending any money in the primary,” Cornyn added. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to be saying anything bad about Marco Rubio. To the contrary, I think Marco Rubio, if he wins the nomination, will beat Kendrick Meek (D).”
At some point, one has to wonder how honor-bound Cornyn is to do anything in this race. Certainly, by describing his commitment in such lifeless terms, he’s not doing Crist any good anyway. Crist — and for that matter, Cornyn and the NRSC — would be better off by imposing an ex post facto neutrality on this primary race and explaining it from the proper role of the NRSC to elect Republicans in general elections rather than picking winners in primaries. Crist might score a few points by releasing Cornyn and the NRSC from its pledge himself.
Cornyn does have a rational reason to invoke honor here, though. The NRSC recruited him for this race, convincing Crist to change his mind about seeking another term as governor — a race Crist would have easily won. Having done that, it would be more than a little dishonorable to throw Crist under the bus now. Cornyn admitted his error in this presser, but now he’s stuck with its consequences.
This is a good lesson to party leaders about top-down decision-making. Let’s hope it doesn’t get forgotten.