MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Appearing Friday night on the HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher, Charlie Crist reversed his long held position in support of Cuban embargo, saying he now believed the embargo should be lifted.
“I don’t see a lot of politicians from Florida having the courage to stand up to that small Cuban community,” host Bill Maher offered.
“Well I think they need to,” Crist said. “I think it’s the right thing. I mean the embargo has been there what 50 years now. I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away.”
As the studio audience in Los Angeles applauded, Crist added: “Really, I believe that.”
Crist went on to explain one of the reasons he believed the embargo should be lifted is that trading with Cuba would help Florida’s economy.
“From a selfish point of view as a Floridian I’d like to see that happen [the embargo lifted] because a lot of construction would be required on the island and South Florida could be the launching pad for all of that and really create some jobs for the people of my state,” he said.
The responses to Crist’s comments were both fast and predictable with Republicans blasting their erstwhile party mate.
Governor Rick Scott declared: “The suggestion that Cuban Americans need to be ‘stood up to’ is insulting. Our Cuban community needs to be stood up FOR.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen declared: “Charlie Crist is nothing more than an unprincipled, opportunistic politician who will say anything and do anything to ingratiate himself with the voters and try to get elected.”
Added Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart: “While countless brave men and women in Cuba are being beaten and arrested for peacefully demanding freedom and democracy, Crist further insults the victims of that oppressive regime by wanting Florida business to provide it resources so that it continues its violent repression.”
It is not clear the impact Crist’s statements will have on the governor’s race. It could energize hard-line Cuban Americans who were ambivalent toward Scott. Now they have been given a reason to vote for Scott.
Crist is hoping his stand will win him favor with voters around the state – particularly non-Cuban Hispanics – who believe the state’s politics have been held hostage by a small block of the electorate.
The problem for Crist is that his change of position on the embargo feeds into the narrative that he is changing every position he ever held to win an election. The former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat now supports gay marriage and a woman’s right to have an abortion.
But the new position on the embargo – and how it was announced – belies another problem. Who is running his campaign?
Rolling out a policy change of this magnitude is not something a politician would normally do in answer to a question on a comedy show.
Also saying he was going to “stand up” to the Cuban American community is unnecessarily insulting toward a group that he had previously courted. And finally, arguing the embargo should be lifted because it will be an economic boom for Florida is tone deaf to the legitimate suffering that is taking place in Cuba.