The Cost Of Backing Crist

Throwing national-level support behind Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate bid had its upside for the GOP: it signaled to the country, to its ranks, and to anyone thinking about running for office as a Republican that things weren't as bad as they had been a week ago. The GOP now has a top-tier candidate who can carry a race in a big swing state like Florida, and all hope was not lost. But Crist is a moderate who backed Obama's stimulus, and it's costing the GOP some support from some prominent conservative bloggers.

They're angry at National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn for endorsing Crist, and RedState's Erick Erickson--a leader in the conservative blogosphere--is calling on his audience to stop giving money to NRSC. In fact, he just started a Facebook group for conservatives who are refusing to donate. (The group has 104 members as of right now, but it looks like it was started last night, and about 20 people joined in the last 10 minutes)

It's unclear what impact the conservative blogosphere has on GOP fundraising, so, consequently, it's unclear what monetary impact Erickson's effort will bring about. (Democrats have ActBlue, through which money can be funneled to candidates online, but I'm unaware of a major online donating infrastructure on the right.) Conservative bloggers did play a big part in driving the GOP's message during the 2008 campaign, forwarding such memes as Obama-as-the-Messiah and allowing the Republican National Committee's web-only video ads to seep into the public consciousness.

A schism with the conservative blogosphere isn't devastating to the GOP so far from an election, but it's probably not something the GOP wants, either--especially as the party looks for its new identity and way forward. Bloggers signify a hard core of the conservative movement, and they can tap into the energy and network of the tea party movement, for instance.

(If Rep. Eric Cantor  wants to hold events across the country where he can listen and talk about the future of the party, it would help if readers of conservative blogs--a segment of the public who might be most likely to show up to those events--aren't riled up and angry at the party he's trying to guide.)

The debate over Crist is symptomatic of the broader debate the GOP is caught up in--which voices it wants to listen to, and what goals it wants to pursue--and conservative bloggers will often be to the right of the national party. Such outrages at Cornyn and Crist might be the birth pangs of the future GOP.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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