Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D) said Tuesday that a “big reason” why he left the Republican Party was because many in the GOP were hostile to President Obama due to his race.
Crist, who is running for his old office against Gov. Rick Scott (R), said in an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos that he felt uncomfortable with his previous party affiliation. Republicans are perceived as “anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, [and] anti-gay,” he said, and they refuse to compromise with Obama. The ex-governor said he feels, “liberated as a Democrat.”
“I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there,” he said. “I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me.”
Crist left the GOP to run as an independent during his failed 2010 Senate bid, when he lost in a GOP primary to Marco Rubio. He officially joined the Democratic Party soon after the 2012 elections, and before that, he supported Obama’s reelection bid.
“I am liberated as a Democrat, my true soul is able to be seen, and I couldn’t be happier about it,” Crist said.
He holds a double-digit lead in at least one poll over Scott, who suffers from poor approval ratings.
Ramos challenged Crist on his motivation for leaving the party, questioning whether his loss to Rubio played a bigger role. Crist responded it was because Republicans had become too radical.
“No, I left the Republican Party because the leadership went off the cliff,” Crist said.
Republicans pushed back against Crist's claims of racially motivated hostility toward Obama.
"Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful," Izzy Santa, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Fusion.
The Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat has taken heat for flip-flopping on many key issues, including the Affordable Care Act, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Crist admitted to Ramos that he “modified a little” on healthcare reform.
“All of us in the beginning of something big like that happening, until you can get really comfortable with it, it’s hard to embrace,” he said. “But I fully embrace it. I know it’s the right thing to do.”
On the immigration issue, Crist said he tried to be a “good team player” and accommodate Republicans who were against the tuition proposal at the time he was governor. But he now supports it. Last week, the GOP-controlled Florida legislature passed an in-state tuition bill and Scott is expected to sign it into law.
The ex-governor said he switched his position to oppose the embargo on Cuba because he believes it has been ineffective in dismantling the Castro regime.
Crist said he still admires some Republicans who understand that the party has changed, like another former Florida governor: Jeb Bush.
“He would be a good president,” he said of the potential GOP candidate. “I think Hillary would be a great president.”
Even though he has fond feelings for Bush, he said he won't be changing parties again any time soon.
“I’m a Democrat for life, now,” Crist later added, in case there was any doubt.
See the full interview with Crist here:
Here are some more notable quotes:
- On Jeb Bush: “He understands what’s happening in the party. He said himself not long ago, my father probably couldn’t win a Republican primary today.’ And then he took it one step further and said, ‘not even Ronald Reagan could win a Republican primary today with this Republican Party.’"
- On political changes: "Oh, we're always evolving. But I'm a Democrat for life, now. A Florida Democrat."
- On the show's graphics: (Pointing to the "Political Crist-Cross" graphic wall) "I love the cross .. It's wonderful."