Charlie Crist never does anything subtly. That's pretty much the bottom line you can draw after the night's incredible series of events in the glorious state of Florida.
So here's what happened:
Crist is incredibly ambitious. He has also damaged his credibility among Florida voters by seeming to act in the best political interests of Charlie Crist when circumstances warrant. The governor promised at least two candidates his endorsement for the 2008 Florida Republican primary. He really wanted to be vice president. In this election, now as an independent, he knows that the one trump card he holds is that he can choose to caucus with the Democrats if he wins the Senate race.
So when it becomes clear that Crist's shtick ain't working, and Marco Rubio is set to be the next senator from Florida, Crist calls up Bill Clinton's fixer, Doug Band, whom he doesn't know very well, and asks him to ask Clinton to send out feelers to Kendrick Meek. If Meek drops out, Crist will caucus with the Democrats if he wins.
Clinton makes sure the White House is aware of Crist's intentions. The White House becomes aware. The WORST kept secret in Florida politics is that the White House tried to get Clinton to do this several months ago. At the time, Clinton told the White House to stick it where the sun don't shine. He has real affection for Meek.
So -- the White House doesn't object to Clinton talking to meek about dropping out. Just ... you know ... don't really pressure Kendrick too hard, they told him. Obama likes Kendrick. He's a real talented politician, a guy who has a solid political base, a guy who, even losing the Senate race, has a future. The last thing Clinton would want to do is to be heavy handed about it. In any event, that's why conversations like these are kept secret. If you're going to do a deal, do it in private. But if it works, and it happens early enough, it could swing the Senate race around. It's a gamble -- a gambit -- but it could have worked.
Clinton, according to Politico's Ben Smith, calls Meek twice. Meek seems to Clinton to be on the verge of agreeing to the deal. What Meek gets out of it is not clear. The deal isn't sealed.
Crist -- well, here is where I have to speculate, because I don't know who leaked the story. Smith, a friend of mine, has good Crist campaign sources. He knows Josh Isay, Crist's chief consultant, pretty well from his days in New York politics. I don't know if that's the connection.
Instead of shutting up, Crist appears on television to ... fully confirm the story. He sends out a statement acknowledging the truth of the story while pretending to disdain the focus on process. Really, it looks like Crist was trying to force Meek out of the race by disclosing the didn't-get-done deal.
Meek seems outraged. He's Bill Clinton's friend. He endorsed Hillary Clinton. As Meek pointed out in a press conference last night, Clinton has campaigned for him more than any other candidate. Meek calls the report "inaccurate at best," a weird formulation. (If it isn't true "at its best," then what can be at its worst?)
Meek probably did consider dropping out. That'd be the rational thing to do. Now, of course, it would be silly of him to admit it. Now he looks like either the victim of a cheap trick, or a participant in a political plot. Republicans get to say that Democrats are trying to push out a black candidate. (They really are saying that!)
Democrats in Florida don't need a circular firing squad controversy that has the potential to depress the party's base. Meek wasn't going to win the Senate race. But Alex Sink has a shot to win the governor's mansion. The Democratic Party needs supporters of Crist's and Meek's to show up on Tuesday. Alex Sink has the right to be incredibly angry right now.
Clinton will get more knocks than he deserves here. There's this narrative out there that he does nothing for people who didn't support his wife. Ha! (Ask Joe Manchin if that's true.) Clinton has done basically whatever's been asked of him, except in cases where someone was challenging a Hillary supporter in a primary. But the White House was OK with that. Anyway, Meek stuck with Hillary until June.
Meek could be -- could have been -- a senator four years from now when or if Bill Nelson retires. Now his reputation is going to be tarnished. And now the Democrats look desperate ... desperately afraid that they're going to lose the Senate.
Maybe Crist is being paid by the Republicans after all.
Maybe Meek, who's doing television everywhere on Friday, will get a last minute bounce of energy from Floridians who see him as a victim of something Crist tried to do.
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is a contributing editor at The Atlantic
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