Rick Scott's "fan" disaster: Just the sort of trivial thing he deserves to lose over

The Florida governor's contest is now marked by a dispute over a portable fan. It's exactly what this race deserves

Published October 16, 2014 4:53PM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott                  (AP/J Pat Carter)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (AP/J Pat Carter)

Let's talk about The Fan for a minute. Better yet, let's consider The Fan. The Fan is now the hottest story in American politics. With good reason, because it was the strangest moment in a political debate this year, and precisely the sort of stupid thing that the Florida governor's race deserves to hinge on.

Last night's debate between former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott got off to a late start. Both candidates were late coming to the stage. Crist showed up first, and the moderators explained that Scott was refusing to appear because Crist had a portable fan placed underneath his lectern, allegedly in contravention of the agreed-upon rules. After several minutes, Scott appeared, and the debate took place. You may watch, here:

What could the Scott camp have been thinking? The governor's advisors, who should all be fired today, must have made the calculation that refusing to go on stage to highlight Charlie Crist's obsession with fans was a winning political move. As in, voters would overlook Scott's incredible pettiness and instead focus on how much of a kook Charlie Crist is. That's what we'd call a completely unnecessary gamble. Sure, we're in desperation season, but Scott is not trailing by 10 percentage points. This is one of the closest high-profile races in the country. And Scott decided that he wouldn't come on stage for a debate because his opponent enjoys a good fan.

(It's long been a joke in Florida politics about how Charlie Crist is never more than arm's length from a fan, because the guy doesn't like to sweat. A little obsessive-compulsive, sure, but on the other hand... ever been to Florida? It's always about 118 degrees and humid in Florida. The sun feels like it's about three feet above your head at all times. Air conditioning can only mitigate the problem, not stop it. The merciless sunlight and death heat sneak sideways, through door cracks, through walls, through sheer force of will. If you are a man who sweats, Florida is your enemy. You want to lug a fan around, wherever you go? Fair enough.)

Scott and his campaign seem to have recognized how far out of their way they went to screw things up, because they're changing the story. It was Crist who refused to take the stage.

"Let's get one thing clear: Rick Scott never refused to take the stage and debate," Sellers said in an email to supporters shortly after 11 p.m. "In fact, our campaign was not notified Charlie had even taken the stage because the last we heard, Crist was in an 'emergency meeting' with debate organizers pleading for his precious fan."

This doesn't make much sense, because Crist was onstage for many minutes before Scott relented and appeared. You could see, on the teevee, that Crist was standing there waiting to debate. Rick Scott must have refused to take the stage, because he was not on the stage. There was nothing stopping Rick Scott from going onstage at the beginning of the debate and making Crist look like the petty fool who refused to show up, but he didn't.

Here's Scott this morning, offering a similar explanation. He claims that they heard Crist wasn't going to show up, so "we waited to see if he was gonna show up." But Crist... did show up? He was onstage for a while? Alone?

If this weird, petty nonsense is the sort of thing that decides the next governor of Florida, it won't be a tragedy. It will be fitting. This is a race between two notorious creeps. Rick Scott is an arch Medicare fraudster. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican vice-presidential short-lister not that long ago, is one of the purest opportunists in modern American politics. The debate that eventually happened between the two last night consisted of them flinging these very valid critiques of each other back and forth. This race, like so many others in this cycle of blanket unpopularity, is not one of profound optimism and inspiration. If a trivial dispute over a portable fan is what decides this race, that's because conditions were trivial enough to allow for such a trivial decider.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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