CHARLOTTE — Charlie Crist embraced the embrace that got him exiled from the Republican Party during his speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.
“One of [Obama’s] first trips in office brought him to Fort Meyers, where I was proud to embrace him and his plan to keep our teachers, police officers and firefighters on the job,” Crist told the crowd at the Democratic National Convention here Thursday. “Well that hug cost me more grief from my former party than you can ever imagine.”
That’s true. The image of Crist hugging Obama at the Fort Meyers event became a rallying cry for conservative Republicans incensed over Crist’s support of the stimulus bill. The 2010 Republican Senate primary in Florida — which began as Crist’s to lose — became a kind of referendum on the hug that eventually led Crist to quit the GOP and run as an independent. That decision helped usher in Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and create a new GOP star.
Now Crist is reprising his role as an Obama booster, lauding the hug that cost him his GOP affiliation. But that’s not how he described the moment at the height the Senate race against Rubio and Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek. Back then, Crist said he was just being a gentleman.
“I did shake his hand and when I did, he pulled me close and I didn’t pull back because I’m a gentleman,” Crist said in October, 2010. “He does it to everybody.”
Crist said he didn’t regret the moment, however.
“I don’t regret it one bit. Not one bit,” he said. “I’m very proud of the fact that I was decent to the president of the United States of America.”
That came a few months after Crist ran radio ads attacking Obama while he was still trying to run as a Republican.
On Thursday, as he spoke to thousands of Democrats in Charlotte, Crist took back the hug and once again stood by the president against his Republican opponents. He spoke about the GOP’s shift to the right as someone who felt its repercussions firsthand — and as one of the first high-profile Republicans to see his career fizzle under tea party attack.
Crist didn’t fully embrace Obama, though he did wrap his arms around the Democratic belief that modern Republicans are too extreme to put in office.
“As a former lifelong Republican, it pains me to tell you that today’s Republicans — and their standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — just aren’t up to the task,” Crist said. “They’re beholden to ‘my way or the highway’ bullies, indebted to billionaires who bankroll ads and allergic to the very idea of compromise.”