Charlie Crist, who used to be the governor of Florida then quit four years ago to run for Senate and lost, then switched parties (now he's a Democrat), is running for governor again. Why would someone switch parties to run for a job he just quit? That's the question two Tampa Bay Times reporters try to answer in a lengthy profile of Crist published today. What they've come up with is a tragicomic biography of a charismatic, shallow, completely unprincipled, and very successful politician who comes across less as a human being than he does a Carl Hiaasen/Elmore Leonard caricature who, like a fairy-tale princess in a postmodern children's movie, has somehow leaped out of a book and into real life.
Many of the piece's most memorable takeaways are either verifiable facts or characterizations given on the record by named sources. For instance: At least five Crist advisers and fundraisers have gone to prison, for crimes including bank fraud, Medicaid fraud, and running a Ponzi scheme. He once spent $320 on portable electric fans during a trip to Europe (he allegedly doesn't like people to see him sweat) and did more than $500 in damage to a hotel room in Chile via wine stains and cigarette burns on an official trip to South America on which he brought his girlfriend, the divorcée heiress to a Halloween-costume business. The piece's authors also witnessed this exchange between Crist and a waiter about a bowl of soup—Crist is an extremely trim, tan man who reportedly doesn't eat breakfast or lunch—themseves:
"What's that in the middle of it?" he said to the server.
"It's … the green part or the bread?"
"It's … a piece of toast."
Crist held the bowl over the middle of the table.
"Do you want me to take it back?" the server said.
"Just the toast," Crist said.
"There's an old expression," he added. "Eat bread, look like bread."
Some of the damning material about Crist—like the assertion that he only spent about four hours a day as governor actually working in his office—is anonymously sourced, it should be noted, and his former Republican allies have a good deal of incentive to criticize him now that he's running as a Democrat. Of course, that's kind of the point: Crist has amassed a career's worth of enemies by doing things like switching political parties at age 56. And the piece is not really so much about any particular detail or criticism as it is about Crist being a consumate born politician, a Michaelangelo of kissing up, avoiding conflict, and telling people what they want to hear. The authors almost come off like Ron Burgundy—so flabbergasted they're not even mad, just impressed. It's a very entertaining article; read it here—then click over to Crist's poll numbers and despair at how close he is to once again talking voters into giving him a position of power.