In this week's New York Times magazine Mark Leibovich profiles Florida’s upcoming Republican primary, in which the sometimes-popular and one-time front runner Governor Charlie Crist is struggling to stay ahead of tea-party poster boy Mark Rubio. The piece details the rise of this growing, though still fringe, movement in the GOP that seeks to exorcise the party of any moderate members. Members of this loosely affiliated group rally around their disdain for the President, suspicion of all government, and scorn for party moderates who work with Democrats on any issue, no matter the cause.
Crist is demonized for, among other reasons, accepting stimulus money from a Democratic administration, despite his insistence that the funds helped to save the jobs of 20,000 Floridian teachers. He has also been lambasted for embracing the President during Obama’s first trip to Florida (Crist says he was simply being respectful and hospitable), and, perhaps more importantly, his endorsement of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 failed presidential campaign. This, say the tea-bags, shows that Crist is unfit for any Republican support. They abhor McCain’s penchant for working across he aisle to get things done--even though McCain has shown very little bipartisan spirit since Obama took office.
Let’s for a moment pretend that McCain tapped Crist as his running mate in 2008, as was heavily speculated at the time. Obama would have most likely still won the presidency, but we would never have known the name Sarah Palin, and the tea-party movement as we know it would likely not exist. (Pailin and FOX News’ Glenn Beck are the idols of the movement). Moderates like Crist would have had a better shot at running successful moderate campaigns in the GOP, and the nation would be better for it. We wouldn’t see placards calling our President a Nazi, a communist, a Muslim, and so on. And perhaps, though this is admittedly optimistic, our elected representatives would be willing to work with their colleagues in the opposite party.
Instead, McCain picked Palin, which helped give birth to a movement that is threatening any semblance of moderation and pragmatism in the Republican Party. This harms not only the GOP, as most voters are much more moderate than the tea-partiers, but the nation as a whole. Having a legitimate opposition party, one that is willing both to criticize the Democrats and work with them on critical issues facing the country, is key toward ending wars, lowering debt and creating jobs. But by seeking the unattainable mirage of party-wide ideological purity, the GOP is diminishing its own stature and hindering its ability to be an effective check on the party in control, which is always bad for any democracy. Perhaps if Crist wins--and he may yet still pull off a victory--he will deal the final blow to this vitriolic movement.