Crist controversy resurfaces in new Netflix film

Crist controversy resurfaces in new Netflix film
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 9:58pm

 A buzzy new political documentary coming to Netflix won't do much to heal Charlie Crist's reputation as an unprincipled, say-anything politician.

"Mitt," debuting on Netflix this Friday, chronicles Mitt Romney's two campaigns for the White House with intimate behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews with the candidate and his family.

While the film largely glosses over the 2012 Republican nomination battles, it chronicles many of the twists and turns of the 2008 primary fight - including Crist's surprising last-minute endorsement of John McCain just two days before the Florida primary.

That was back when Crist was the state's Republican governor. Today, after quitting the GOP during an ill-fated 2010 Senate bid, he is running for the same seat -- but as a Democrat.

The campaigns of McCain, Romney and Rudy Giuliani had all courted Crist aggressively before the 2008 primary. His endorsement of McCain, who was leading slightly in the polls at that point in the race, was galling to Giuliani and Romney.

The Giuliani campaign later claimed that Crist had outright promised to support the former New York City mayor before betraying him down the final stretch. Some members of the Romney campaign said Crist had also issued them the same pledge.

Crist defended his decision at the time, saying it was a "gut call."

The documentary captures the exact moment Romney finds out about Crist's endorsement. An anguished-looking Romney, wearing a golf shirt and slumped in his hotel room chair, is informed of the news by phone.

In the next shot, his son Tagg delivers the back story straight to camera.

"Charlie Crist had promised my dad multiple times that he was going to stay neutral," he says. "He talked to many people on our campaign and he promised them all he was going to stay neutral. And now he has announced he is going to endorse John McCain. Now it's two days before the election. This is a big deal. It's a tight race, and it's probably enough to tip it in McCain's favor."

Romney complains that Crist lacked the courtesy just to call and offer a heads up.

"You do something like this, you call and say, 'Look I made a decision," Romney says. "By the way, we have all talked to him and we said, are you going to endorse somebody? And he said no."

McCain went on to win the primary, and Romney soon dropped out of the Republican race. A spokesman for Crist declined to comment on the new film.

These days, Crist is considered persona non grata within the GOP. From top party officials on down to grassroots conservative activists, he is seen as a self-interested flip-flopper who left his party when it suited him politically in 2010.

In Romney-world, the aversion to Crist dates back even earlier, to that January evening in 2008 when campaign officials said he broke his word.

"Dem or Republican, I'll do whatever I can to bury that iguana," said Will Ritter, a former Romney aide and GOP consultant. "For as long as I live. For free." 

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