“I’m a civil rights activist — why are you doing this to me?” bleated a supporter of Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist as security removed him from his preferred candidate’s only debate against Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis last week.
Crist’s unenviable task has been to convince Floridians that they are worse off now than they were four years ago, or to explode some wedge issue that would bring a game-changing eruption to his sagging campaign.
He has also tried to pitch his candidacy as a last-ditch stop to frustrate DeSantis’s possible presidential ambitions, a reactive line that merely exposes what a hopelessly inadequate leader Crist is.
The debate delivered none of this. Flailing about for straws to grasp, Crist was at one point reduced to claiming DeSantis is the “most anti-business governor in America,” which made the audience erupt in peals of laughter — at Crist.
He blamed DeSantis for high energy prices, a hopeless allegation since high energy costs are a national problem directly associated with Biden administration policies that Crist supports. Florida, as DeSantis correctly rebutted in any case, now has the country’s fifth lowest gas prices.
Crist also grumbled about home insurance premiums, which are admittedly high in Florida, but sounded more like an old man angrily sending back soup in a deli than a credible challenger.
Crist tried to seize onto abortion, claiming without evidence that the new state ban beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy — which is longer than most European abortion laws provide and is currently suspended pending a legal challenge — is a prelude to a complete ban.
Yet he could not shake the inherent absurdity of an elderly white man pretending to be impassioned by woman’s “right to choose,” a “right” Crist opposed when it was politically expedient for him earlier in life.
Crist built a poorly constructed argument suggesting that DeSantis is trying to divide Floridians by “making it harder for people to vote in our state,” only to be refuted by reference to democratically approved state laws against voter fraud.
He whined about DeSantis’s airlift of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, but was about as convincing as any Vineyard hypocrite cheering their swift removal by the National Guard.
DeSantis stood proudly on his record while taking pithy pot shots at Crist’s wavering past as well as his support for pandemic policies that either failed or had no significant effect.
“I lifted you up, while some, like Charlie Crist, wanted to lock you down,” the governor said in the evening’s greatest rhetorical flourish.
He also turned Crist’s close alignment with Biden against him. In the language of the debate, Biden policies on anything became “Biden-Crist” policies.
The only moments when Crist approached credible criticism came when he — in violation of debate rules prohibiting the candidates from asking each other questions — repeatedly demanded that DeSantis commit to serving a full four-year term if reelected.
This would be impossible if DeSantis runs for president or vice president in 2024 and wins.
DeSantis replied in reference to Biden’s advanced age and clear signs of dementia, “the only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
He got a lot of applause for that, but Crist’s point fell flat since virtually all Florida Republicans — which is to say a large majority of Floridians these days — actually would like to see their governor hold higher office one day, regardless of whether it involves leaving before his next term expires.
They realize that presidential clout would only benefit the state, and more important, that a DeSantis presidency would bring Floridian solutions to American problems at a national level.
Nothing Charlie Crist does or says can stop that now. With less than a week to go, some polls have DeSantis up by 10 points or more.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.