Crist’s Passions: Listening for Answers the GOP May Not Want

By Rick Klein

Charlie Crist gets to set the course for the GOP after all. (Whether it’s where Republicans want to be led -- that’s another question.)

Since we know that he’s listening and all -- what he’s hearing back is some mixed sounds, of varying volumes.

A party switch for Gov. Crist, R-Fla., may be his only remaining path to becoming a United States senator.

But it’s a path fraught with peril for the Republican Party -- and the possibility of Democrat Kendrick Meek winning in a three-way race would only be the GOP’s most immediate concern.

The storyline of Republican disarray was just about put to bed, or at least was on track to come to an end with this year’s primary season. Under the preferred (conservative) Republican scenario, Marcio Rubio defeats Charlie Crist, the Tea Party gets to drink deeply in victory, and there’s no Dede Scozzafava to worry about.

But if Crist runs as an independent, he writes a new chapter in a divisive story for the GOP, one that we’ll still be reading in November.

This one is about party purity and litmus tests and presidential hugs and who gets to call himself a conservative -- and what Republicans will do to their own (as it turns out, efectively what Democrats did to their own in the later Bush years) with someone who gets too close to the opposite party’s president.

How about this for a change: Crist’s bolting is probably good for the GOP establishment. (It makes the primary campaign cleaner, and lets off the hook some of Crist’s early endorsers.)

But it’s maybe less than good for the party as a whole, this fall and beyond.

(And while we’re talking open doors -- Rahm for mayor? Not much parsing necessary: “One day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Charlie Rose Monday night . More on that below...)

As for Florida’s opening doors -- this is quite a bit wider now: “I can tell you I'm getting a lot of advice in that direction. I'm a listener and so I'm certainly listening to it,” Crist tells Sarina Fazan of WFTS-TV’s ABC Action News , in Tampa Bay.

On the famous hug with President Obama -- any regrets? “Absolutely not, I embrace it, no pun intended,” Crist said.

With a well-timed NRSC memo declaring that there’s “no chance” Crist will run in the GOP primary...

Crist, to Adam C. Smith and Beth Reinhard , in the St. Petersburg Times: “I'm getting all kinds of advice ... This is a decision that has to be made by [April] 30th, and I want to do what's right for the people of our state.”

Crist, to The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Damien Cave : “What I think is right for me to do is to be guided by the people of Florida, not by people in Washington, D.C.”

Zeleny and Cave write: “The intense exchanges between the governor and Republican leaders in Washington underscore the challenges facing Republicans as they seek to rebuild their party and capitalize on a difficult midterm election year for Democrats. If Mr. Crist were to run as an independent, the Florida race could remain a central front in the fight for the direction of the Republican Party throughout the year and complicate the party’s hopes of holding the seat.”

About that advice -- Jim Greer, recently deposed as state GOP chairman : “If putting the people first once again requires him to run as an independent he should do it!”

Not much time left now ... “It’s a bizarre homestretch to a Florida Republican Senate primary election that is hurtling toward an uncertain April 30 conclusion,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and David Catanese report . “Crist allies sought to tamp down talk that he would drop out of the race altogether.”

Context -- from one who’s set to feel empowered by the experience: “Firebrand conservative Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, breaking with the Senate's tradition of deference, is endorsing and funding conservative candidates to challenge the party establishment's picks,” The Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid reports. “On one side are pragmatists like [Sen. John] Cornyn who insist that uncompromising conservatives aren't good bets to win swing states. On the other are purists like Mr. DeMint who want to field as many conservatives as possible to recapture the public's trust at a moment when faith in government is at low ebb.”

Said DeMint: “I'm at the point where it doesn't matter if we win if we don't believe in anything. ... There's no need to nursemaid somebody to the general election if they're just going to come up here and vote like the Democrats do.”

The establishment, falling into line: House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., plans to announce his endorsement of Rubio.

“We are a nation at a crossroads, and we need responsible leadership in Washington. Marco Rubio is just the type of leader our country needs and will make an excellent Senator for the State of Florida,” Cantor will say in a statement provided to The Note in advance of its release Tuesday.

Adam C. Smith, in the St. Petersburg Times : “Today may be the day we can officially declare Marco Rubio the preferred candidate of the GOP establishment, which of course likes a winner.”

(Think Mitt Romney is glad he made the trip to Florida Monday, to endorse Rubio? “All I would say to you is that states were designed to be laboratories for creative thoughts and ideas,” Rubio told National Review Online. “That’s what the Framers of our great republic intended. They wanted the states to be the places that came up with innovation and competition. And I’ll tell you what, if Massachusetts gets it wrong and Florida gets it right, people will move to Florida, and businesses will move to Florida, and vice versa.”)

Plotting responses -- Erick Erickson, at RedState.com : “First, every Republican Senator who backed Crist must immediately demand their money back. That’s a no brainer. Second, we need to see which Republican operatives stay with Crist and make sure they have a hard time finding work after leaving Crist. Third, I hope the Club for Growth will, like they did with Arlen Specter, get every Crist donor to demand their money back.”

Looking down the road: “Depending on November’s returns, Crist could end up being a fulcrum on which Democratic control rests. Sure, it’s unlikely, but if it happens, Crist could finagle a committee chairmanship out of the switch, just as Vermont’s Jim Jeffords did in 2001 when his decision to leave the GOP gave Democrats a two-year majority, from 2001-2003,” Mike Riggs and Pat McMahon report for The Daily Caller.

That other choice: “Some politicos are becoming convinced he may drop out of the race completely,” ABC’s David Chalian reports . “The Rubio campaign today highlighted what it says is a sign Crist’s days as a Republican Senatorial candidate nominee may be waning: the Crist campaign’s cancellation of some reserved TV ad time in several Florida markets.”

Keeping your intrigue alive over at the palace and beyond ... “MAYOR RAHM? 'I WOULD LIKE TO RUN' ” screams the headline on Lynn Sweet’s Chicago Sun-Times story .

“White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who in January tried to quash stories about a future Chicago mayoral bid, on Monday put his interest in City Hall on the record: ‘One day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago,’ ” Sweet writes.

Said Emanuel: “I hope Mayor Daley seeks re-election. I will work and support him if he seeks re-election. ... But if Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor of the City of Chicago. That's always been an aspiration of mine even when I was in the House of Representatives.”

Sweet continues : “Mayor Daley -- who will be 68 on Saturday, in his 20th year overseeing City Hall -- has not yet made an announcement about running for another term. The mayoral election is next February, and Daley is expected to seek re-election.”

Back on the Hill -- pressing to keep a deadline that right now simply cannot be met.

“Democratic leaders scrambled Monday to peel away the Republican votes they need to bring a Wall Street reform package to the Senate floor this week -- an effort hampered by sharp partisan divisions,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Brady Dennis report . “Both sides are eager to exploit a lingering resentment toward Wall Street in the election-year debate. Democrats have seized on the attempt to curb reckless investment practices as part of an effort to depict the GOP as out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.”

They continue: “In the short term, to overcome GOP procedural objections to bring the measure to the Senate floor, Democrats are targeting three Republicans: Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The three have said they oppose the legislation in its current form, but Snowe and Corker said Monday that their concerns could be resolved in a matter of days.”

Some context: “Democrats are doing what they can to reshape the political environment,” Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times. “In recent days, Obama and congressional leaders have taken on Wall Street, practically daring Republicans to block reforms aimed at the maneuvers that almost capsized the financial system. The fraud suit against investment giant Goldman, Sachs & Co. on Friday has invigorated those efforts, at a time voter anger over bailouts and the bursting of the housing bubble continue to boil. Still, several trends are running strongly in Republicans' favor, after two dismal elections that first cost them control of Congress, then the White House.”

More context: “Four weeks to the day after President Barack Obama signed a historic health overhaul into law, Democrats haven't enjoyed much of a political bounce as a result,” Gerald Seib writes in his “Capital Journal” column. “Perhaps most discouraging for Democrats, they may have slid backward a bit on the key question of whether people intend to vote Democratic or Republican in this fall's midterm elections.”

Outside, inside: “To build momentum around the bill, Obama will take the message of the importance of financial reform around the country, much as he did for health care,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe, Huma Khan and Jonathan Karl report. “The president on Thursday will deliver remarks in New York City, where he will call for ‘swift Senate action.’ ”

President Obama, in Los Angeles Monday night campaigning for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif .: “The Senate Republican leader, he paid a visit to Wall Street a week or two ago. He took along the chairman of their campaign committee. He met with some of the movers and shakers up there. I don’t know exactly what was discussed. All I can tell you is when he came back, he promptly announced he would oppose the financial regulatory reform. He would oppose it. Shocking.”

Get your terms right: “The White House, girding for its final push, is circulating a new set of talking points on the Hill and to outside allies that makes it official: The terminology is now ‘Wall Street reform,’ ” The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent reports .

Rahm, working it: “As President Obama prepares to deliver a speech in New York later this week that will attempt to align his administration squarely on the side of American taxpayers furious with Wall Street, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, met privately on Sunday night with some of the city's top investors,” The Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz and Michael Shear report . “At a private cocktail reception at the Park Avenue home of investors Jane Hartley and Ralph Schlosstein, Emanuel joked about how each of the 60 guests should take a work of art home before speaking seriously about the administration's commitment to regulation reform.”

New DNC ad -- “for years,” a 30 second TV spot going up on national cable for at least two weeks: “Republicans stood by while Wall Street ran wild... Now Republicans are working with Wall Street lobbyists to block reform -- reforms that would protect consumers and prevent a future bailout.”

Either: “Senate Democrats likely will scrap a proposal for a $50 billion fund to wind down big failing companies in an effort to draw Republican support for financial- overhaul legislation being considered later this week,” Bloomberg’s Alison Vekshin and Patrick O’Connor report .

Or: “Senate Democratic leaders plan to stand behind the $50 billion fund maligned by Republicans as perpetuating Wall Street bailouts, agreeing at a leadership meeting Monday that they wouldn’t give it up without gaining GOP votes in return,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports .

Swarm: “With so much money at stake, it is not surprising that more than 1,500 lobbyists, executives, bankers and others have made their way to the Senate committee that on Wednesday will take up legislation to rein in derivatives, the complex securities at the heart of the financial crisis, the billion-dollar bank bailouts and the fraud case filed last week against Goldman Sachs,” The New York Times’ Edward Wyatt and Eric Lichtblau report.

Coming Tuesday: “Some two dozen executives from large corporations will be descending on Capitol Hill today to make the case against over-regulating derivatives,” The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber reports . “The ‘fly-in’ is being organized in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through a group called the Coalition for Derivatives End-Users.”

Complicating your scorecards: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side -- President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig,” Politico’s Eamon Javers and Mike Allen report . “The beleaguered Wall Street bank hired Craig -- now in private practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom -- in recent weeks to help in navigate the halls of power in Washington.”

In Illinois -- and not the last one of these, surely: “Congressman Mark Kirk said he plans to return campaign contributions given by employees of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama in Illinois,” Bloomberg’s John McCormick reports .

Who’s counting, anyway? “Senator Scott Brown’s use of as-yet-unsubstantiated industry estimates to predict the number of jobs that would be lost to greater financial regulation drew fire yesterday as partisan debate continued to heat up in the US Senate,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports . “Brown said yesterday that his weekend prediction on national TV Sunday that tightening Wall Street rules would kill 25,000 to 35,000 jobs in Massachusetts was ‘based on my speaking with industry leaders’ in recent weeks, but he did not cite any specific analysis.”

“That varied from an explanation offered by his representatives on Sunday, when his office said Brown was given the estimate by the chief executive of MassMutual, a large insurance company headquartered in Springfield. MassMutual officials said Sunday, and again yesterday, that they did not give Brown any firm estimates of projected job losses in the Bay State.”

Power struggles: “Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Monday issued the first congressional subpoena of the Obama administration,” The Hill’s J. Taylor Rushing and Roxana Tiron report . “It’s rare for Congress to subpoena an administration controlled by the same party and, in doing so, Lieberman followed through on a threat he made last week. ... He has accused the administration of stalling a congressional probe into the November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, saying the departments of Defense and Justice have turned down four requests for documents over the course of five months.”

Seeking momentum, in advance of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman: “Some political analysts say it’s just not possible this year to squeeze in legislation that aims to limit carbon pollution that is warming our planet or to invest in U.S. sources of clean energy,” Maggie L. Fox of The Alliance for Climate Protection writes in a Politico op-ed. “But the good news is that, behind all the daily political turmoil, the Senate is working on an agreement to forge a new energy future that will help our economy, promote energy independence and give us millions of new jobs. We do have time to finish this important work -- and we can’t afford not to.”

Movement, on a Citizens United response? From the release out late Monday: “Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congressman Mike Castle (R-DE) announced that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, which they plan on introducing shortly.”

From their joint statement: “The bipartisan legislative response to this ruling will promote openness in government and compel disclosure of the money that is being used to finance elections. We believe the American people have the right to know who is spending money to influence our democracy. Furthermore, it will close loopholes to prevent foreign influence, as well as keep major beneficiaries of taxpayer money from financing political campaigns.”

In Arizona -- drawing new borders in a primary fight: “With border violence flaring again, the two U.S. senators from Arizona on Monday called on President Obama to deploy 3,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in their state, saying the borders must be secured before the White House pursues a broader immigration bill,” the Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan writes . “The call from Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, was made the same day Arizona's Legislature approved a bill to make it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant.”

In Pennsylvania -- when does Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., start spending that bankroll? “Multiple sources with knowledge of the ad buy confirmed to PoliticsPA that the U.S. Senate candidate will begin airing TV ads sometime Tuesday. The size of the buy couldn’t be confirmed,” Alex Roarty reports for PolticsPA.com. “Political operatives both nationally and statewide have long awaited Sestak’s first TV ads, which are considered crucial to his campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.” Sarah on the stand? “A former college student charged with hacking Sarah Palin's e-mail account fears some jurors in heavily Republican East Tennessee could be dazzled when the conservative star testifies,” the AP’s Bill Poovey writes . “Jury selection begins Tuesday and Palin's testimony could soon follow in the case against 22-year-old David Kernell.”

The Kicker:

“Am I unhappy with the way I deal with the press? No. Again, I ... I'm doing this, by the way, on background, somebody who has intimate knowledge of the thinking of the press secretary....” -- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs .

“When you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don't know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you, all right? I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.” -- President Obama, responding to some hecklers making noise over “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/

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