Would a Senator Crist Caucus With the Democrats?

Why would a Senator Crist caucus with the people who put a knife in his back?

Now that it looks like Florida Governor Charlie Crist might run for the US Senate seat as an independent, and that he has a decent chance of winning, we might think for a moment about what kind of Senator he could be.

If Crist gets in the race as an Indy, expect the punditocracy to compare him to Joe Lieberman, and predict that if elected he would caucus with the Republicans.  But there is one huge difference in the two cases.

When Lieberman was challenged from the left, every Democratic officeholder backed him in the primary.  Barack Obama came to Connecticut to campaign for him.  Chris Dodd endorsed him (this was before the financial meltdown and such an endorsement might have been worth something). Only after Holy Joe lost the primary did Democrats turn to Ned Lamont, the party’s official winner.

Contrast this with Florida: there, Republicans are fleeing to wingnut Marco Rubio’s campaign well before the primary.  That tells you — and it should tell Crist — a hell of a lot about his Republican friends.  And it should also give him pause about caucusing with the GOP if he wins the race.

There is one other important difference that militates against my argument: Lieberman was an incumbent Senator, and Crist of course is not.  But I don’t see that as particularly relevant here.  Crist was recruited by national Republicans.  He saved John McCain’s presidential campaign in the Florida primary — and was rewarded this week by attacks from Arizona’s senior senator.  All his supposed friends went south on him as soon as it got tough; they didn’t even bother with neutrality.  Once Crist takes the knife out of his back, he might consider whom he would be able to trust in the Senate — if he gets there.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

5 thoughts on “Would a Senator Crist Caucus With the Democrats?”

  1. Another important difference — the Republicans play for keeps, they're all about discipline. If you don't toe the line in the Senate, there are consequences. Liberman could support the other party's presidential candidate and suffer no consequences. Crist has already crossed the line. He is smart enough to know he won't get squat from the Republicans. It's just so much easier being aligned with the Dems.

  2. Unless he's the guy that would tip them to the majority, he'd have zero leverage with the GOP. They'd stick him on podunk committees, give him crappy offices, find ways to strip his staff, and dock him senority every time he strays outside the fold. There's nothing in it for him . . . politically.

    But there's considerations other than straight-up politics, and (1) its a given that he'd be the darling of the Sunday shows — the independent Republican, the GOP's Lieberman. He couldn't very well do that if he caucused with the Dems, because they've already got a Lieberman of their own. Plus . . . (2) he's 53. Pretty young. He's probably thinking of the Presidency, and rolling the dice on the idea that at some point the GOP won't be plum crazy. Should that day come, there's no way he talks his way around caucusing with the Dems at any point.

  3. If anything, the fact that Crist isn't an incumbent makes it more likely he'd caucus with the Democrats. After all, he wouldn't be breaking away from people he served with for years already, while he would still have the bitterness from being stabbed from all directions from any number of Republican.

    I wonder if any conversations have been held about this in the White House. I don't know if it's possible they could get the Democrat in the race (Meeks, I think, but I am not sure) to drop out, or intentionally half ass it, but is it that outrageous to think Axelrod and Obama have discussed letting Crist be the de-facto Democrat and saving money for the races in New Hampshire, North Carolina, and other places?

  4. It would be very difficult for Crist to promise to caucus with Ds in the context of a 3-way election, but that promise would be worth having the Dem nominee fall on his sword and withdraw.

    I think the trick would be to have Crist give a series of criteria where he agrees with Ds, and for him to say that as long as it's Ds and not Rs taking this position, he'll caucus with them.

    I know the Dem nominee is somewhat more liberal, but I'd give that chance up in return for a guaranteed defeat of Rubio and an extra vote caucusing with Ds.

  5. "Plus . . . (2) he’s 53. Pretty young. He’s probably thinking of the Presidency, and rolling the dice on the idea that at some point the GOP won’t be plum crazy. Should that day come, there’s no way he talks his way around caucusing with the Dems at any point."

    Joe Biden turns 70 in 2012. Obama likes him, but he's not going to turn a state, and he's not running in 2016 (when he'll be 2 years older than John McCain was, and 5 years older than Reagan).

    Crist is the young, handsome governor of a swing state where Obama desperately needs to shore up support (after Constellation and the GOP's scare campaign on Medicare).

    Do the math.

    Crist's never running for President as a Republican.

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