FLORIDA REPUBLICANS REMINDED OF ‘LOYALTY OATH’…. It appears increasingly likely that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will depart the Republican Senate primary and run for the vacant seat as an independent. Of course, as a sitting governor and life-long Republican, if Crist does make the jump, he’ll probably try to convince some of his closest allies to stick with him.

The Republican Party of Florida is anticipating this, and “making preparations” to remind its members that they don’t really have a say in the matter — if Crist isn’t a GOP candidate, they’re forbidden to endorse him.

In a memo to the executive director of the FL GOP, general counsel Jason Gonzalez concludes a party rule would prevent GOP officials from backing Crist’s campaign if he runs as anything other than a GOPer.

“[T]he Party Loyalty Oath forbids Republican Executive Committee members from supporting any candidate other than the candidate nominated by the voters of the Republican Party through its primary election,” Gonzalez wrote in the memo. The loyalty oath means GOP officials “cannot provide their active, public, or financial support to any candidate other than ‘the Republican candidate’ in a general election.”

The loyalty oath allows party officials to back a registered GOPer in a nonpartisan race, but in a partisan election, they wouldn’t be allowed to support Crist, even if he remains a registered GOPer. What’s more, party officials have to actively ask for their contributions back if they want to keep their own jobs.

I can appreciate party discipline as much as the next guy, and I’ve long been impressed by Republicans’ efforts to keep members in line, but it’s incredible to me that GOP officials in Florida are actually required to sign a loyalty oath. Isn’t that just a little authoritarian for 21st-century America?

According to a CNN report, the loyalty oath applies to all of the members of the State Republican Executive Committee, the County Executive Committees, and precinct committee members, as well every Florida Republican in Congress, all six GOP statewide officeholders, and Floridians on the Republican National Committee.

The party of “freedom”? I don’t think so.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.