The New York Times has an eye-opening story today about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's questionable deal to buy land from United States Sugar for Everglades restoration. The whole thing is worth reading, but I'd like to draw attention to just a few lines in the 4,000-word story. Listen to what former governor Jeb Bush had to say about the Crist deal. Bush was "deeply disappointed," he told the paper. "On a net basis, this appears to me there has been a replacement of science-based environmental policy for photo-op environmental policy." Ouch.
This is only the latest example in recent weeks of Bush taking digs at his successor. It's no secret that there's no love lost between the two men. Nor is it a secret that in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Bush prefers Marco Rubio, a former Florida House speaker, over Crist. Yet he has remained publicly neutral in the race, and over the past year, he has mostly kept his thoughts on the contest to himself. Recently, however, that's changed.
In late January, Bush appeared on the Today show and implicitly criticized Crist for backing President Obama's stimulus plan. While it was "more than appropriate" for Crist to appear alongside the president at a rally in Ft. Myers [Fla.] in support of the stimulus, Bush said, "I wouldn't have necessarily embraced the stimulus plan that did not have support in the state and campaign for it and put Republicans in a vulnerable position." Late last month, Bush was even more pointed. He called Crist's support for Obama's stimulus plan "unforgivable" and blasted him as the "only statewide political leader, that I'm aware of, that embraced the stimulus package when Republicans were fighting to suggest an alternative."
All of this seems to signal that Bush is getting more comfortable selectively inserting himself in the primary matchup, either by directing digs at Crist or offering kind words for Rubio. It also increases speculation that Bush will eventually offer his endorsement to Rubio. If he does, which appears more and more likely, he'd probably wait until closer to the primary date (Aug. 24) to ensure it packs more punch.
Bush's formal backing would offer Rubio yet another boost (not that he appears to need much help these days, given his skyrocketing trajectory). Bush remains a highly popular figure among Florida conservatives, who are the most likely to turn out in a GOP primary. Already, Rubio has benefited from the assistance of numerous Bush confidants. His sons, Jeb Jr. and George P., endorsed Rubio and are raising money for him, and Bush loyalists like Jorge Arrizurieta and Ann Herberger are helping out Rubio's campaign. A blessing from the man himself, though, would be the most gratifying prize of all.