Stimulus, Steele, and the Sunshine State

STIMULUS, STEELE, AND THE SUNSHINE STATE…. In February and March, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was so incensed over President Obama’s economic recovery package, he said publicly that Republicans who endorsed the stimulus may face retribution from the party. He told Fox News that might include withheld support in a GOP primary.

With that in mind, Aaron Blake raises a good point.

Well, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) not only supported the stimulus; he actually appeared alongside President Obama in Fort Myers, Fla., when the package was being launched.

So, with the party establishment behind Crist in Florida’s Senate race, how will Steele treat Crist? Does he hold fast to his crusade against stimulus apostasy, or back a man who was even more gung-ho about the stimulus than Sen. Arlen Specter — the original target of Steele’s threat?

It seems unlikely Steele will seriously follow through on his threats, especially in Florida’s open-seat race. National party leaders see Crist’s statewide approval ratings, and will be thrilled to see him throw his hat into the ring today. But Crist was an enthusiastic supporter of the Obama recovery plan, suggesting Steele will probably be forced to back away, again, from his previous comments.

That said, Crist’s work with Obama on the stimulus speaks to a larger truth: the far-right Republican base tends to hate the Florida governor.

The assumption has long been that Crist, with his high approval ratings, would not only cruise in a GOP primary, but also be the likely favorite on Election Day. But the governor will face a very aggressive Republican opponent — former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio — who will run far to Crist’s right. In fact, Rubio, laying the groundwork for his primary message, recently said, “If you agree with Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe on some of these issues, you might as well become a Democrat.”

Rubio recently won plaudits from the Weekly Standard, will no doubt enjoy support from the Club for Growth, and is rumored to enjoy the quiet backing of Jeb Bush. He’s going to spend the next year throwing red meat to the party base, dismissing Crist as an unprincipled moderate.

Crist may be “the star of the Republican recruiting efforts to date,” but this primary isn’t going to be a cakewalk for him.