Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday responded to remarks by former Gov. Jeb Bush that it was "unforgivable" for Crist to embrace President Obama's economic stimulus package. Bush said in a Newsmax TV interview that Crist was the only statewide leader that Bush was aware of who "embraced the stimulus package when Republicans were fighting to suggest an alternative."
"Well, everybody has a right to their opinion," Crist said. "I understand that different people view it in a different way. In the shoes that I stand in right now, I've got to look out for the people, and that's what I'm doing."
Without the stimulus money, Crist said, Florida would have lost another 87,000 jobs, including 20,000 in the teaching profession.
Bush's criticism of Crist is likely to rekindle speculation that it's only a matter of time before the former governor backs Crist's opponent in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
When pressed, Rubio reluctantly acknowledged he would have accepted most of the stimulus money. Every governor did. Some, though, raised a public fist of protest against Congress while holding the other hand open in search of all that Washington cash. Meantime, many middle and lower income folks appreciated the c. $200m in tax cuts.
Bush is on shaky ground criticizing spending, considering the fact that spending increased on his watch more so than any other Florida governor. The annual percentage spending increases in Bush's last three years: 8, 10 and 12.
Also, employment data suggests that, after the stimulus, the rate of job losses slowed. Also, job losses peaked in January 2009 when the other Bush's presidency officially ended. A good number of economists, including conservatives, say the stimulus did help stabilize the economy, though as we've said before the stimulus so far has acted as a government bailout that prevented deep spending cuts rather than actually "stimulating" the economy.
But the positive effects of the stimulus don't really matter to many Republican voters. With their newfound and strident opposition to deficit spending upon Obama's election, what really matters is that Crist stumped with a Democrat and defied the base. It was good general-election politics by Crist but a horrible move in a Republican primary. And he will pay the price.