When Charlie Crist picked his long-time campaign manager and chief of staff George LeMieux to serve out the balance of Mel Martinez' term in the US Senate, it was a natural selection of a close ally to keep the seat warm without threatening Crist's own ability to run. But now, Crist is openly contemplating bolting the GOP to stage a kamikaze run as an independent rather than accept the verdict of the GOP primary voters' support - shown overwhelmingly in the polls - for conservative rising star Marco Rubio. It's a step that would burn every bridge Crist has in the state: with party loyalists, who don't want a sore loser to stage a 3-way race that could elect otherwise unelectable Democrat Kendrick Meek; with conservatives who see Rubio as a long-term star in the party; with Cuban and other Latino groups that wonder why Rubio isn't good enough to get the treatment usually accorded to primary winners; and with the NRSC, which backed the wrong horse by encouraging Crist to enter the race after Rubio had already announced (rather than run for re-election as Governor) and now would have enormous egg on its face for having created a monster.
And now, even, with George LeMieux. LeMieux may have been content to play seat-warmer this time around, but he has his own ambitions, including a possible 2012 challenge to Bill Nelson for the state's other Senate seat, and all that could be torpedoed if he is seen as complicit in his boss' treachery. So, the Hotline reports that LeMieux may back Rubio against Crist if Crist runs as an independent:
LeMieux now has a choice to make: If Crist bolts the GOP and runs as an independent, LeMieux will have to decide between backing his old friend and angering the very GOP primary voters he'll need in '12, or sticking with the party and throwing his pal overboard.
Sources close to LeMieux said they believe he has made his decision, and that he will stick with the party over the person. LeMieux has talked the decision over with his advisors and staff, and they believe LeMieux would endorse ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) if Crist makes his switch official.
"He's made his position pretty clear. He's been a life-long Republican," said one source who asked not to be named revealing internal discussions.
LeMieux is said to feel bad about the decision personally, but it won't come as a surprise to Crist. LeMieux has counseled Crist to remain a GOPer, and as recently as last week he urged Crist to continue his underdog bid against Rubio, he said on a conference call with reporters.
I've written before that if you want loyal aides who stick with you in the long run, don't pick people who are loyal to you personally; pick people who are loyal to your cause and your ideals, because when the going gets tough, they will stick with their beliefs even if they no longer see benefits in sticking with you. Crist is facing a corollary of that: because he doesn't really have principles - to be a Crist true believer, what would you believe in? - his support is only as broad as the personal loyalty he inspires, and his betrayal of his party is likely to leave him nearly alone. By November, it could just be him and his tan.