The Republican Party has begun to find a voice and a theme in the first few months of the Obama administration, that of independence from Washington and a strong local voice in policy rather than a top-down attitude from an increasingly autocratic White House and Congress. At least, the Tallahassee Democrat’s editors write, Republicans like that theme when it suits their own purposes. When it comes to primary contests, however, the GOP seems to be singing a different tune:
The idea that government closest to the people knows what’s best has again become the mantra with Democrats controlling the White House and Congress.
In a few GOP-dominated states like Texas, the notion has even been taken to an absurd level with silly talk of secession over Washington’s perceived interference in state affairs.
In short, Washington mandates are bad, local choices are good.
Except, that is, when it comes to choosing Republican candidates.
Take Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement last week that he was seeking the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Mel Martinez. Within hours, the Republican establishment in Washington — desperate to save its dwindling number of Senate seats — threw its support behind him.
That puts Crist in position to reap tons of campaign cash, tap into the party’s other resources and improve his chances for victory.
The only problem is that former GOP Speaker of the Florida House Marco Rubio is also running. While Rubio has given no indication of pulling out, it’s doubtful other Republicans will jump in.
This really does reek of hypocrisy. Republicans have rightly criticized Barack Obama and his various stimulus, health-care, and budget plans for relying on top-down diktats while taking more taxpayer money and grabbing more power. Their argument is that people in their own communities know best how to manage their needs and their budgets, and that’s certainly true.
So why doesn’t that apply to a primary contest in Florida? Even more so, why doesn’t that apply to an open primary, in which the incumbent is not running? Jazz Shaw wonders why both parties seem to fear primaries, and then answers his own question:
In Florida it’s a bit of a muddled picture. As soon as Gov. Charlie Christ decided that he was running for Senate, the RNC threw its weight, money and arm-twisting power behind him. Unfortunately, this was before anyone really stopped to consider what that might mean to state house speaker Marco Rubio, who is also eying that Senate seat with a hungry look on his face.
Here comes the interesting dynamic for you political junkies. Crist is the moderate, more in the mold of mavericky John McCain, let’s say. Rubio is the fire and brimstone conservative. Should the state party and their primary voters be left to make the choice they like best? Or might the national party be in a “Mama knows best” mode and need to have a say in it? My heart tells me the former, but the pragmatic side of my brain may be leaning the other way.
Jazz seems to think that paternalism works, and perhaps it does, but that certainly conflicts with the message the GOP has been sending since January. Crist may have an easier time holding the seat against a Democrat than Rubio; unlike the Speaker, Crist has already won a state-wide election. One can understand why the national GOP and the NRSC would want to get Crist into the race.
However, primary elections allow voters to hold politicians accountable and to force office seekers to acknowledge the electorate rather than just party bosses. If Crist can’t beat Rubio in a primary, then perhaps Crist isn’t a good candidate for a general election, either. Florida Republicans might want to feel as though they have something to do with choosing their representative in the US Senate, and not the NRSC’s fair-haired boy. Even if Crist is the best man in a general election, the national GOP is doing everything they can to demotivate Florida Republicans by taking even the pretense of a local choice out of their hands.
The national party should never have issued an endorsement in the primary, especially with their newfound emphasis on federalism and local control of government. The Democrat, ironically, rightly highlights the hypocrisy.