“Chain Gang Charlie” Crist once loved that nickname; it showed he was tough on crime.
That, however, was before Crist left the Republican Party. Before he was an independent. Before he became a Democrat, a party with a significant number of black voters more apt to be troubled by images of shackled labor.
Over the years, along with his party-affiliation changes, Crist’s policy positions have zigzagged, flipped and whirled. He’s no longer Chain Gang Charlie.
Now, as ever, he’s Changeling Charlie.
Last week, the frontrunner for governor hit the trifecta of metamorphosis on three consecutive days — reinventing positions on his own reinventions (Monday), race in the GOP (Tuesday) and Cuba travel (Wednesday).
Conventional wisdom holds that modern-day party-switchers are doomed. Yet Crist leads longtime Democrat Nan Rich and Republican Gov. Rick Scott in polls.
That popularity — coupled with inflammatory rhetoric and a knack for stealing headlines and TV-news broadcast time — outrages many Republicans nowadays.
Crist’s high approval ratings are partly rooted in an irony: His reversals are consistent. Crist invariably moves toward popular positions, making many voters feel as if he’s on their side. That also enables him to contrast his penchant for bending to popular will with what he implies is the rigid ideology of Scott and GOP hardliners.
“If you take in new data, and new circumstances, and you don’t modify, you’re a fool,” Crist said. “And if you have new data or new attitudes and new experiences and open your eyes to a different point of view, then an enlightened man or woman does so.”