Crist Calls GOP Reaction to His Obama Hug 'a Bit Harsh, Frankly'

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a onetime Republican who's angling for the job again but as a Democrat this time, said this morning that he can't pinpoint just one thing that drove him away from the GOP.

"The party just really changed or I should say the leadership of the party primary. I mean, Jeb Bush said it better than I can say it. He said, 'Today's Republican party is perceived as being anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-gay couples, anti-environment, anti-education' -- I mean, pretty soon, there's nobody left in the room," Crist said on MSNBC.

"And so, I mean, you know, when the party goes in that direction and the leadership guides it that way, really hijacked by the tea party, that's what happened to the Republican Party in our country."

Crist bolted from the GOP during the 2010 Senate race in an unsuccessful effort to beat Marco Rubio.

He called the tone of today's Republicans "a bit harsh, frankly."

"And I lived it. I mean, I saw it. You know, when I was running for the Senate in 2010 Carol and I, my wife, we went to some events where I had recently been with President Obama in Fort Myers, hugged him right after I introduced him and, you know, that was like a sin to some in the Republican Party," Crist continued.

"So I would go to events and people would yell out from the back of the room, 'why don't you go hug Obama again?' And I'm like, wow, what's up with that? And, you know, it continued to get more harsh as the campaign progressed."

About that hug: "This man is the president of the United States of America and the way my mom and dad raised my three sisters and me, you respect people. You respect others, especially if the other happens to be the president of the United States of America."

"And so I went and when I got there, he asked if I would introduce him and I said I would be honored to do so, of course. So I went up to the podium and said a few words. And said that we need to support the president, the recovery act, the stimulus as it's commonly known because it's the right thing to do," Crist said. "I mean, I was governor at the time. And the economy was in the tank."

Crist is on the trail plugging his new book, The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.