Too much heat in the Sunshine State

TOO MUCH HEAT IN THE SUNSHINE STATE…. Perhaps the most important political story of the day isn’t out of D.C., but rather, about 900 miles south.

On a conference call with reporters just now, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer officially announced his resignation, effective on February 20. He took the opportunity to tear into his right-wing critics for wanting a smaller party and accused them of pulling apart the GOP itself in order to take him out.

Greer is an ally of Gov. Charlie Crist, a relative GOP moderate who is being vigorously challenged in this year’s Senate primary by the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Supporters of Rubio had been accusing Greer of mismanaging party funds and of being biased in Crist’s favor, all of which Greer has strongly denied. In his resignation, Greer said he could no longer put the party through this divisive process — but he clearly didn’t mind taking some parting shots on the way out.

Given that Greer was being forced out of his job by right-wing contingents, he felt largely unrestrained when it came to assessing the Republican factions that want to drag the party even further to the right. Greer said his detractors were so intent on ousting him, they were prepared to “burn the house down and destroy the Republican Party of Florida.”

He added that he came to realize that he “cannot be a participant in the shredding and tearing of the fabric of the Republican Party.”

This is obviously a significant blow to Crist and his Senate campaign — the right-wing contingents that organized against Greer did so, in large part, to undermine Crist’s Senate campaign and help former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R). Chris Cillizza questioned today whether Greer’s ouster is “a blow from which [Crist’s already embattled Senate candidacy] cannot recover.”

But this is a story that’s relevant far beyond Florida. Today’s news has national implications.

Evan McMorris-Santoro noted, “It’s hard to overstate the importance of this resignation to the national GOP landscape.”

The Senate race in the Sunshine State has become something of a proxy for the larger fight within the GOP, which pits conservative Republicans against extremely conservative Republicans. A wide variety of party players from outside Florida have been weighing in, making it the epicenter of the larger dispute over the future of the GOP.

Crist and his allies — including Greer — prefer a bigger party that can appeal to independents and center-right Democrats. Rubio’s allies believe “moderates” need to be driven out of the party altogether, and they decided to start with taking out Greer.

Crist, the sitting governor, tried to stop them … and failed miserably. The right — in Florida and nationwide — now feels emboldened after claiming a high-profile scalp.

Looking ahead, keep two angles in mind. First, this isn’t a fight between Republican moderates and Republican conservatives, at least not in any meaningful sense. Olympia Snowe vs. Jim DeMint? That’s the GOP center vs. the GOP right. Jim Greer, meanwhile, is perhaps best known for creating a national “controversy” in response to President Obama’s plan to tell school children to do well in school. At the time, Greer threw a tantrum, accusing the president of trying to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda,” adding that Obama “has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies.”

Greer, in other words, was never a moderate/centrist, but he was still not right-wing enough for the Teabagger crowd.

And second, one wonders if anyone outside the political world will notice any of this. Will the typical Florida voter realize that the state Republican Party is being hijacked by crazies? If so, there may be an electoral price to pay. If not, the problem will only get worse.