On April 28th, news broke that Florida Governor and current Senate Candidate Charlie Crist would be leaving the Republican Party and running for Senate as an Independent. The story is on the heels of very poor performance by Crist, which has him trailing in the race for Senate against far-right firebrand and former Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio. Crist has been repeatedly slagged by the GOP base for his support for the Obama Administration's Economic Recovery plan, as well as his noted criticism of offshore drilling in Florida, a gulf state.
Consequently, Crist, not a man known for getting into a fray-he notably kept silent as Florida Attorney General during the Terry Schiavo case-has been in a fight for the very future of his career in politics. In a poll conducted last week, Rubio was seen as leading the race with 37%, with Crist at 30% and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek at 22%. In a nationally televised debate with Rubio, Crist was seen floundering and reduced to mudslinging. All of this culminated in Crist leaving the Republican party and running as an Independent.
The response to Crist's switch has not surprisingly vile. Many members of the GOP who endorsed Crist have renegged their support and supported Rubio. The local GOP even put out a newsletter demanding none of their members vote for Crist. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign committee has asked that Crist return the campaign funds given to him by the GOP. In essence, Crist was driven out by an angry mob and told never to come back.
However, Crist's political banishment is not an isolated case. Ironically enough, on April 28th of last year, longtime champion of the moderates in the Republican Party, Arlen Specter, announced he would leave the Republican Party to become a Democrat after it was announced that Pat Toomey, a member of the ultra-conservative interest group the Club for Growth, would be running to the right of Specter in the 2010 senate race. Like Crist, Specter's main crime was support of Obama's Economic Recovery Act and given the dubious title from the Club for Growth of "Comrade of the Week" despite his unabashed support of the Iraq War and gun rights.
In addition, many stalwarts of the Republican Party are facing challenges from the growing far right fringe of the party. Utah Senator Bob Bennett, one of the most conservative members of the Senate is facing multiple challengers from the far right. Even John McCain, the Arizona Senator who was the Republican Party's Nominee for President in the 2008 election, is facing a challenger from the right in disgraced former Arizona Congressman JD Hayworth.
As a result, many GOP Senators that typically would work together with Democrats on issues like energy and financial reform have been forced to say no to virtually everything proposed in Congress for fear that they will become subject to the rage of the Tea Partiers and 9/12ers. This shift to the right in the Republican party is slowly turning the GOP into an ideological party that will not be able to win nationwide elections.
In a recent poll, it was revealed that the biggest voting bloc in America is now independent voters who are disillusioned with both parties. They do not necessarily want to have higher taxes or more intervention from the left, but also do not want government completely out of their business lives and make America into a theocracy as some on the far right want it to be. While the Democratic party has increasingly moved to the center over the course of the past fifteen years, the GOP has become an ideological party that only caters to the beliefs of only a small fraction of Americans.
Furthermore this purge is clearly un-Republican. Case in point, the RNC recently put out litmus test called the Reagan Purity Test, which was named after the principle that Reagan once stated where if someone agreed with Reagan 8/10 times they were on his side. Members who received less than 8/10 would not receive support. However, if Ronald Reagan himself had taken the test he would have failed the test miserably. Reagan famously cut and ran from the Middle East after Marines were killed in Lebanon, raised taxes 11 times during his Presidency and signed the Brady Bill for Gun Control. If the GOP continues this purge, they risk going the way of the Whigs, and the Federalists; only a fringe group of lunatics meeting in basements, hoping for a revival of their ideas that will never come.