The era of Charlie Crist has come to an end.
On Monday, the man who has been on a statewide general ballot six times since 1998 took to Facebook to say “no mas.” And while Crist may one day again run for office, his time at the center of Florida politics is officially over.
Sure, Jeb Bush served for eight years as governor and probably made a more lasting impact on state government than Crist. And Marco Rubio, who shattered the myth of Crist’s political invincibility, could dominate state politics for the coming decade. But for the last twenty years, Crist has helped define Sunshine State politics like no other politician.
As “Chain Gang Charlie,” Crist helped usher in the era of modern Florida politics – one driven by sound bites and TV news-ready moments. Running for governor in 2006, Crist shattered fundraising records, transforming how candidates run for statewide office. And in the two defeats he suffered in 2010 and 2014, Crist came to exemplify a brand of politics no longer applicable in the rapid, social media-driven atmosphere.
“Less government, more freedom,” Medi-scare, Orimulsion, Jim Greer, “Drop like a rock,” George LeMieux, “The People,” Fan-gate and so many other disparate people, issues, and events colored the Crist era that there really is no one moment that defines the twenty years from when Crist was first elected to the state Senate to his loss to Rick Scott in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The high-water mark for Crist has to be the brief time he was on John McCain’s short list of possible running mates. And in all honesty, Crist never recovered from being passed over for that slot.
Still, it’s amazing to think now, with Crist a cautionary tale for aspiring politicians, that had he just run for re-election as governor in 2010, he very likely would have been a frontrunner – or the frontrunner – for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
On Monday, Crist said he would not be a candidate in 2016, not necessarily because he doesn’t want to be, but because Crist-fatigue has never been stronger. The trial balloon about Crist running for the U.S. Senate was shot down within hours of being floated to the media.
The brutal reality is Crist was indirectly muscled-out of running by his friend, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, whose camp was saying that Murphy was running for the Senate no matter what Crist decided to do. For Crist, this likely would have been deja vu all over again – his statewide name ID would at first show him leading Murphy, but he likely would have ended up losing to the more disciplined younger candidate.
Crist running in 2016 would have been like watching Willie Mays as a New York Met stumble along the base paths or Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief throw interceptions.
The world shifted right under Crist’s feet. Through much of his career, he acted as his own press secretary, handing out his cell phone number to any reporter who asked. Yet he never adjusted to the social media environment that requires an authenticity Crist has struggled to demonstrate. In this period of geeks and data-driven arguments, Crist could not get past bullet points when discussing policy. He infamously switched parties in a time of fierce political polarization.
And yet Crist once was so powerful, he all but swung Florida’s presidential primary to McCain with his endorsement. He could persuade Big Sugar to sell its land to the state. He could outshine Jeb Bush. He palled around with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The White House seemed a possibility, albeit distant.
But no more. The most recognizable figure in Florida politics has no race to run. And the two-decade era he defined is over. What Crist does next is really anyone’s guess.
Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.