Let me pose a hypothetical. A young, charismatic Hispanic advocating for more humane immigration policies and against draconian enforcement defeats an aging, white politician in an election. The older politician then leaves his party to join the party led by the politician who took unprecedented action to squash immigration reform. What would you call the older politician?
You would call him Charlie Crist, right? After all, that is exactly what happened in Florida, and over the weekend Crist bolted the party advocating for more immigration with a growing cadre of Latino political stars for the party of the status quo. Crist endorsed President Obama, perhaps unsurprisingly but not without a dose of irony and a mammoth lack of self-awareness. There is a lot to love in his Sunday op-ed announcing his endorsement of the president, but this is my favorite part:
But an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.
The senator who defeated Crist, you’ll remember, was Marco Rubio. Rubio, no doubt, can’t help but laugh at the thought of Crist lecturing him–the son of Cuban immigrants–on what is good for Latino immigrants. But it’s even more risible as Rubio’s defeat of Crist enabled the Republican Party to raise the issue of liberalizing immigration policies. Rubio put together his own version of the Dream Act, which was expected to gain such bipartisan popularity that the Democratic Party moved to destroy any chance of it coming up for a vote. So President Obama released an executive order directing authorities not to enforce immigration law against certain immigrants rather than pass legislation to fix the problem.
Additionally, Crist mentions education, but Crist’s predecessor, Jeb Bush, enjoys a legacy that includes a reformed state education policy with impressive results. In other words, Crist hails from the state at the center of an immigrant-friendly, pro-education reform movement led by the party he is walking away from.
Both Bush and Rubio have earned extraordinary respect from the national party and the conservative movement. If Crist wants to take a stand on behalf of a status quo that is failing students in order to enrich union bosses and preventing bipartisan immigration reform, he is free to do so. But it should be acknowledged that this is exactly what he is doing.