Crist’s Real Mission

So far, so good, seemingly, for Gov. Charlie Crist. He’s still on the popular, populist side of issues, and seems refreshingly bi-partisan. And, moreover, a really nice guy. Everyone loves him except the jilted conservative Republican base. But, hey, there are always trade-offs.

But what’s with targeting Israel with your very first opportunity at heading a Florida trade mission? Were there that many promised insiders?

Sure, other Florida governors (including Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez) have made the pilgrimage to America’s long-standing friend and ally. But right out of the blocks? This sortie smacked of the purest political motive, something we somehow thought we shouldn’t expect from Crist. At least not so soon.

But he obviously yielded to the political siren call of the Jewish vote. And Florida’s, of course, is sizable, with a Jewish population topped only by those in California and New York.

Florida’s trade with Israel is negligible, about $150 million a year in exports or chump change by international-commerce standards. So this foray is hardly a business priority. For a Republican governor of a mega swing state that the GOP must have in 2008 – and one rumored as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate next year – the Israeli visit was blatant politics as usual. Gov. Crist knows what plays well in the condos of Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, including those strategic photo ops with Israeli leaders.

And speaking of minimal business opportunities, look at who his retinue included: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican and virulent pro-Cuban embargo proponent. The irony is overwhelming. It is estimated that the embargo that Ros-Lehtinen continues to go to the political mattresses for costs the U.S. an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion in lost exports a year, a big chunk of it at Florida’s expense.

Talk about business as usual.

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