The debate between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio on Sunday highlighted the dilemma that Crist is facing: he is weighed down with the mantle of an establishment Republican, a go-alonger, precisely when the Republicans want ideological clarity and rhetorical inspiration. During the discussion about the stimulus, Crist uttered this:
You can’t just be off on some limb, rattling the cage and saying you’re going to do great things. … [You can’t] stand on principle or politics above the people of your state that you’re supposed to serve.
Well, the entire conservative base wants to rattle the Beltway cage and do great things — uproot the noxious ObamaCare and reestablish some semblance of fiscal sanity. Crist is telling them to pipe down and take the road money. He has a cramped view of what it is to serve — to scramble for your voters’ share of the pie rather than toss the pie and start over. And it is this attitude, coupled with the obvious disdain for conservative activists, that has dashed Crist’s prospects.
It is also a lesson for candidates in other races about self-definition. The successful GOP candidates of late — Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown — have embraced, not ridiculed, the activist base. They have wholly rejected the Obama agenda. They have looked at the larger picture, the big themes, and grasped that there is a Center-Right coalition to be forged in opposition to the liberal-statist agenda that has unnerved even some liberals. (Even Jane Hamsher gets why we shouldn’t be forcing people to buy insurance from companies they don’t want to patronize.) You can be mild mannered (McDonnell) while carrying a very conservative message. But the message, if a Republican is going to be successful, must be unequivocal and cage-rattling. That is why Marco Rubio has his lead and is headed for an impressive win.