Charlie Crist: I Didn’t Leave the GOP to Dodge Marco Rubio

By Brandon Larrabee

When then-Gov. Charlie Crist decided to bolt the Republican Party is April 2010 — amid a heated GOP primary with Marco Rubio for a U.S. Senate nomination — his remarks included this allusion to the state of the race, where it looked like Crist was headed for defeat:

“I could’ve chosen to stay in the primary. But frankly, for me, it’s your decision,” Crist said. “It’s not one club’s decision or the other. Or even a club within that club … We go straight to November, and it’s your decision to make.”

Now, in an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, Crist is saying that a likely loss in the GOP primary had nothing to do with the change:

CRIST: When I saw what was happening with the Republican Party, Jeb Bush said it better than anybody could say it, he said it better than I could: They’re perceived now as being anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-gay, anti-education, anti-environment, you know, I just wasn’t comfortable and being honest with myself and my core beliefs, I couldn’t stay.

RAMOS: But that’s not why you left the Republican Party, right?

CRIST: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

RAMOS: You left the Republican Party because you were going to lose to Marco Rubio.

CRIST: No, I left the Republican Party because Republican leadership went off the cliff. I mean, they’re so hard right now, they won’t cooperate with the president on anything. I mean, it’s very disappointing and very discouraging. But I’m an optimist. It’s going to get better.

RAMOS: I understand, but the moment in which you decided just to leave the Republican Party, it was because you were going to lose to Marco Rubio.

CRIST: No, it was because I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African American president, I’ll just go there. Because I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing; it was intolerable to me. As I told you before, my mother and father taught my three sisters and me to treat everybody well. We’re all children of God. And I saw how the party, some of them, were treating the African-American president. And I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s a big part of what I left the party.

Later in the interview, Ramos asks Crist why he didn’t support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants as governor. The exchange got testy as Ramos repeatedly pressed Crist on his position change.

CRIST: I support it today, and I’ll tell you why –

RAMOS: But you didn’t before.

CRIST: … I agreed with you [about not supporting it before]. The point is, we have to do what’s right for America and we have to do what’s right for Florida in my case today and going forward. The president had a great slogan in the campaign, right toward the end: Forward. This is about forward. There’s three moments in time, Jorge: The past, the present and the future. This is a race about the future. Most elections are. And that’s what I’m focused on, because I’m an optimist and I’m ready for it.

RAMOS: But what happened then — before. You didn’t support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and now you do.

CRIST: It was difficult. I was a Republican. And the Republicans didn’t like it. and I really felt like a square peg –

RAMOS: So you were supporting the party-line?

CRIST: May I? May I?

RAMOS: Sure

CRIST: I really felt like a round peg in a square hole, and so, you know, would try to be a good team player. And it wasn’t always comfortable for me. I’m just being very honest with you. But now that I’m liberated, as a Democrat, my true soul is able to be seen, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

An RPOF spokeswoman quickly shot out a link to the footage (it appeared in this reporter’s inbox before the Fusion press release on the interview). Here’s a clip:

You can view the full interview here, or Tuesday night on “AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, which airs at 10 p.m. ET on Fusion.

The News Service of Florida