In the wake of an unimaginable political victory in Massachusetts for Republicans, the celebratory mood is understandable. Scott Brown came out of nowhere in a period of three weeks to wrest the crown jewel of Democratic Senate seats from Harry Reid, to deny Barack Obama his supermajority, and to give new energy to a movement that had already managed to stall Obama’s signature legislation for months longer than anyone really expected. Those circumstances have not just launched new energy but also prompted some fantasies that will inevitably come crashing back to Earth.
The wildest of these fantasies, and surely not one meant terribly seriously, promotes Scott Brown as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Brown is a formidable presence, as Martha Coakley and the Democrats discovered too late, but do we really need another former state Senator with next to no experience in national politics on a major-party ticket? Brown has a good sense of fiscal conservatism, but falls closer to Rudy Giuliani than to Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin on social issues, which is one of the reasons Rudy got an invite to Massachusetts and prominent social conservatives did not.
Besides, Brown has to worry about his own re-election in 2012. He got elected to serve the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s term in office; Kennedy died three years after winning his final term in 2006. The elimination of Martha Coakley means that Democrats will throw a stronger candidate against him in two years, although Coakley was the one candidate who had won statewide office and had the largest constituency. The circumstances that allowed Brown to win a decisive victory yesterday may well change significantly by 2012, although so far the White House and Congressional leadership seem to indicate it won’t.
Either way, Brown has to demonstrate independence and policy stands that put him in the best position to keep independents on his side if he has any chance of beating the Democrats while they’re awake. It’s worth pointing out that 2012 is also a presidential election, and the turnout models are going to turn in a tough direction for Brown because of it. He’s going to have to campaign for the next two years to prepare for a very tough election, one he’s at best 50-50 to win.
This brings us to the second fantasy, which some are taking a little too seriously. People have suggested and even demanded that Scott Brown give the State of the Union response next week on behalf of the Republican Party. He would no doubt make a compelling speech, but he would undermine the sense of independence that he carefully cultivated during his short campaign. Brown made it clear in his victory speech that he would not forget that:
Thank you very much. I’ll bet they can hear all this cheering down in Washington, D.C. And I hope they’re paying close attention, because tonight the independent voice of Massachusetts has spoken. …
Fellow citizens, what happened in this election can happen all over America. We are witnesses, you and I, to the truth that ideals, hard work, and strength of heart can overcome any political machine. We ran a campaign never to be forgotten, and led a cause that deserved and received all that we could give it.
And now, because of your independence, and your trust, I will hold for a time the seat once filled by patriots from John Quincy Adams to John F. Kennedy and his brother Ted. As I proudly take up the duty you have given me, I promise to do my best for Massachusetts and America every time the roll is called.
He only mentioned the word “Republican” once, in a pledge to work with both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Brown’s smart; he knows his audience and his state, and he isn’t likely to make himself the national face of the GOP in his first week on the job.
Finally, Brown’s victory means an end to Harry Reid’s supermajority, which makes the radical agenda he and Obama have pursued unlikely to succeed. This is a much-needed brake on runaway government expansion, but it isn’t Nirvana by any stretch. Brown will be likely to vote for a scaled-down version of health-care reform (as would be Snowe, Collins, and perhaps a couple of other Republicans) that still would be the wrong direction, just not as bad as what’s on the table now. Democrats still have an 18-vote majority in the Senate and a House majority of over 70 seats. They can do a lot of damage in the remainder of the 111th Session, so we have to maintain vigilance and keep up the energy.
We didn’t cross a finish line last night — we crossed the starting line.
Update: Glenn Reynolds writes a long-form essay to sound a cautionary note as well:
But while Scott Brown could get elected as the anti-Obama figure — and while others will be able to pull that off in the fall — the GOP needs to be sure that it doesn’t just look like it’s lining up for its turn at the trough. Polls show that most Americans want smaller government, even with fewer “services.” Running on a platform that money’s better kept in voters’ own pockets, rather than handed over to special interest logrolling and vote-buying, will work: If it’ll work in Massachusetts, it should work pretty much anywhere. It is a fashionably-gloomy line among some on the right to say that the country’s too far gone in statism and the government-handout parasite culture to support such an approach — but again, if you can make it with this in Massachusetts, you can make it pretty much anywhere.
Of course, what the GOP apparat does is less important nowadays than it was. As I noted before, there’s a whole lot of disintermediation going on here — Scott Brown got money and volunteers via the Internet and the Tea Party movement, to a much greater degree than he got them from the RNC. Smart candidates will realize that, too.
And lies don’t work as well as they used to. Obama promised transparency and pragmatic good government, but delivered closed-door meetings and outrageous special-interest payoffs. This made people angry. If Republicans promise honesty and less-intrusive government, but go back to their old ways, the likelihood that the Tea Party will become a full-fledged third party is much greater. Are the Republicans smart enough to realize this? I don’t know. The Democrats weren’t smart enough to look at Virginia and New Jersey and realize that what they were doing was a mistake that would backfire.
Good advice; hopefully the right people take it.
Update II: Jazz Shaw says that Republicans should remember that Brown is a lot like the Republicans that used to get elected in the Northeast:
But as you mull these things over, I ask you to ponder one other question. Is Scott some sort of mystical creature, never before seen in the GOP, sent down from on high to confound you? No, he is not. Scott is actually quite typical of the kind of Republicans we elect to various offices in the Northeast all the time and have been doing so since the days of Eisenhower. Call him a moderate. Call him a RINO. Call him whatever you like. But he came to the race knowing exactly what he had to do in order to win as a Republican in this part of the country. Plenty of Republicans do the same thing every season. And they are consistently pilloried for it across the conservative blogosphere.
When Scott Brown turns out to be pretty much at the same lunch table with Olympia Snow, don’t act surprised. And if you can manage to hold your temper in check, don’t browbeat him for it. That’s how we roll in the Northeast. You were never going to elect a firebreathing, bible belt conservative in that seat. But you did get a win… an important win.
I’d put Brown more in the mode of a Judd Gregg, but Jazz is right about learning to elect Republicans who share core values on fiscal policy that can actually win elections.