Commentary Magazine


Scott Brown Keeps Everyone Guessing

Though it was disappointing to Bay State Republicans, there were several good reasons for Scott Brown to decline to run for the Massachusetts Senate seat opened up by John Kerry’s elevation to secretary of state. Brown had just run two Senate elections in three years, first to successfully vie for Ted Kennedy’s old seat and then unsuccessfully to retain it for a full term. If he wanted to run for Kerry’s seat, he would have to run yet another election this year and then run a year later to retain the seat for a full term.

The prospect of running four Senate elections over that span without even serving the equivalent of a full Senate term seemed physically and financially exhausting. But another reason for Brown to pass on the Senate seat was that he could run for governor instead in 2014. Massachusetts elects Republican governors far more often than the state elects Republican senators. (This is not uncommon in the blue northeast.) Additionally, Brown was thought to have the opportunity to face a weaker opponent for the governor’s mansion. But now Brown has announced he will not seek that office either:

“For the first time in 15-plus years, I have had a summer to spend with my family. In addition, I have been fortunate to have private sector opportunities that I find fulfilling and exhilarating,” the Republican said in a statement on his Facebook page. “These new opportunities have allowed me to grow personally and professionally. I want to continue with that process.” reported that Brown made his initial statement about not running for governor in a radio interview with longtime Boston journalist Dan Rea.

Gov. Deval Patrick, a two-term Democrat, is not running again. Charlie Baker, the Republican who lost to Patrick in 2010, is widely expected to run for the office again in 2014. According to CBS Boston, Brown told Rea he would support Baker if he should choose to run.

Although Brown has obvious political talent and the party had high hopes for signs of Republican life in the northeast, the national party didn’t have nearly as much invested in a Scott Brown gubernatorial campaign. The GOP would of course love to push the narrative of a Republican comeback in Massachusetts to compliment Chris Christie’s popularity in New Jersey. But having Brown in the Senate could impact the party’s ability to shape (or prevent) legislation. As such, the governor’s mansion was a consolation prize, not an equal exchange, for the Senate seat.

The true significance of Brown’s decision not to run for governor is for Brown’s career. It is highly unlikely that a politician could come away from a moment of fame and adulation without any desire to perpetuate or reclaim it, especially someone who, like Brown, does not seem to have a fallback option. (Though Brown had signed on with Fox News, he is obviously much more at home on the campaign trail than in the television studio.)

On that score, two days before he announced he wasn’t running for governor, Brown made a trip to Iowa and dropped some not-so-subtle hints about his political future:

Former Sen. Scott Brown is considering a run for president in 2016, he told a Massachusetts paper Sunday while at the Iowa State Fair.

“I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bipartisan problem solver,” Brown told the Boston Herald from the early-caucus state. “It’s 2013, I think it’s premature, but I am curious. There’s a lot of good name recognition in the Dakotas and here — that’s pretty good.”

Needless to say, Brown is probably not running for president in 2016 if he is not going to have more on his national resume than a third of a term in the Senate. Running for governor (and winning) would have at least made this a plausible option, though even in that case it would be impractical. What would Brown’s constituency be in the Republican presidential primary? He could run as the mainstream northeast Republican, but Chris Christie would seem to have that role to himself. (Christie is also more conservative than Brown, and thus a more realistic nominee.)

His decision not to try to extend his time in the Senate while heading to Fox News had echoes of Sarah Palin’s recent career trajectory. But the similarities end there. Brown didn’t leave his post; he was defeated. Palin also has higher name recognition, having run as the Republican vice presidential nominee. More importantly, Palin had a massive following among the base, whereas Brown is far from ideologically compatible with the grassroots. While it’s highly unlikely Palin would still be able to attract the loyalty of conservative voters over, say, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, Brown was never their champion in the first place.

That’s why the Senate made the most sense for him, since he could be excused for his moderation by simply being a Republican beachhead on Democratic turf while still stymieing major liberal legislation (as he tried to do with ObamaCare). Failing that, the governor’s mansion would at least enable him to build his resume with real experience. It’s doubtful, however, that Brown is stepping too far away from national politics. At the very least, every open seat in Massachusetts (and even some in New Hampshire) for which Brown would be eligible will begin the speculation of his return all over again.

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