Many Republicans still view former Governor/former Republican Charlie Crist with a high degree of contempt, and former New York City mayor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is emphatically included in that group. In a telephone interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, Giuliani shared some of the reasons he thinks Crist is “completely dishonorable.”
Giuliani, who has endorsed Republican nominee Donald Trump, reached out to Times political editor Adam Smith to discuss Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton‘s visit to Tampa Bay. Giuliani ripped Clinton as “the bought and paid for candidate of the Washington special interests,” and then turned to the subject of Crist, who is running for Congress as a Democrat against current GOP Rep. David Jolly.
As Smith notes, the Sunshine State was a critical element in Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign strategy. Believing that it would be tougher for him to win some of the early, more rural, primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani focused resources and staff on Florida, and lobbied hard for an endorsement from Crist, who was Governor — and still a Republican.
I was a volunteer with the campaign at the time, and remember hearing the excited buzz among the campaign team that Crist had promised to endorse Giuliani. But it was not to be. Crist broke his promise and endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain just days before the Florida primary, and McCain would go on to win Florida’s presidential primary and then eventually the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
The eight years since do not appear to have softened Giuliani’s opinion of Crist. As he told Smith:
“He would fit in with Hillary. Hillary is a bigger liar than anybody, and Charlie is more dishonorable that anything. Charlie is a completely dishonorable man, and stands for nothing. If Bernie were the nominee, Charlie would probably be running as a socialist.”
There’s some more backstory to the roots of Giuliani’s bitterness.
Giuliani was the keynote speaker at the 2008 Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Orange County Republican Party in Orlando, which was held on January 26th that year, just days before the January 29 presidential primary. That evening, Giuliani met with a group of campaign volunteers and supporters and gave a rousing speech at a “Women for Rudy” rally before the dinner and was in an optimistic mood. He knew he was in a tough fight for Florida’s delegates, but still believed that Crist would support him, or at minimum, stay neutral in the race.
During the dinner, right before Giuliani was scheduled to appear on stage, a buzz started going around the room. Several young male staffers who worked for Crist in the governor’s office and the Republican Party of Florida burst through the doors and began sweeping through the ballroom. As they scurried from table to table in their dark suits, they hissed their news in loud whispers:
“Governor Crist has endorsed Senator John McCain for President! Governor Crist has endorsed Senator John McCain for President!”
The other Florida Republicans at my table, some of whom were also Giuliani volunteers but not all, were horrified. We looked at each other in shock and heard gasps around us.
Not only was this a violation of the pledge that Crist had made to Giuliani, it was incredibly poor etiquette for Crist’s staffers to announce the news in this fashion right before Giuliani would be speaking as the invited and honored guest of our local Republican Party. “Snakes in suits,” recalled one Republican who attended the dinner and asked not to be named, referring to Crist’s “apparatchiks” who had interrupted our dinner.
Giuliani delivered his speech without a problem, but it didn’t have the same spitfire as his remarks earlier that evening. He had no doubt heard the disappointing news.
Giuliani wasn’t the only Republican presidential candidate betrayed by Crist that year. As shown in the Netflix documentary, Mitt, which covered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Crist had made a similar promise to Romney in 2008. From CNN’s review of the film:
The documentary captures the exact moment Romney finds out about Crist’s endorsement. An anguished-looking Romney, wearing a golf shirt and slumped in his hotel room chair, is informed of the news by phone.
In the next shot, his son Tagg delivers the back story straight to camera.
“Charlie Crist had promised my dad multiple times that he was going to stay neutral,” he says. “He talked to many people on our campaign and he promised them all he was going to stay neutral. And now he has announced he is going to endorse John McCain. Now it’s two days before the election. This is a big deal. It’s a tight race, and it’s probably enough to tip it in McCain’s favor.”
Romney complains that Crist lacked the courtesy just to call and offer a heads up.
“You do something like this, you call and say, ‘Look I made a decision,” Romney says. “By the way, we have all talked to him and we said, are you going to endorse somebody? And he said no.”
Tagg Romney’s prediction ended up correct. McCain would ending winning Florida’s presidential primary with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Romney at 31 percent. Giuliani trailed behind at 15 percent.
Crist is expected to easily win the Democratic primary for the CD-13 race on August 30, and then will face Jolly in the November general election. Different polls have showed both Crist and Jolly with the lead during recent weeks, and the end result will likely depend on the partisan breakdown of the voter turnout. Crist still has a name recognition advantage, and Jolly has the backing of another former Florida governor who never left the Republican Party: Jeb Bush.
(As an added note, all of the dirty little deeds done by Crist described above happened well before Florida Senate candidate Carlos Beruff was supporting Crist and writing him big checks.)
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.
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