Scott Brown's shocking Massachusetts win immediately makes him the most buzzed-about new politician since Barack Obama burst on to the national scene. And he’s arriving just in the nick of time. The national Republican Party has chewed through a host of prospective presidential and vice-presidential contenders for 2012, and is exceptionally hungry for fresh blood.
The emergence of a popular and charismatic Republican with rare appeal among blue-state voters is creating a stir.
“My initial reflex is the guy's got all the tools,” said Thomas Schaller, a political-science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “I don't think he's presidential timber, obviously, but he's an appealing vice-presidential candidate. He has immediate name recognition, he's a drawing card, he has a following of his own, and he has this symbolic branding that money can't buy—that he saved the GOP when they were at the bottom.”
“Scott Brown will be neither a presidential candidate nor a vice-presidential candidate in 2012,” said RedState.com’s Erick Erickson in an email.
Matt Drudge showed even more enthusiasm for Brown on his site on Wednesday, using the headline “Now...Will He Run For President?” to link to an AP article on his Senate victory that made no reference to any such plans.
On paper, Brown could fill a role similar to John Edwards in 2004: a personable young pol with all-American good looks who represents a weak region for his party. The two candidates even shared a fondness for populist tropes: Edwards frequently citing his mill-worker father, and Brown constantly touting his beloved pickup truck.
But the sudden Brown hysteria masks an uneasy truth: A lot of the more conservative voices cheering him on against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley are fundamentally uncomfortable with some aspects of his record. And that could put the brakes on any interest Brown might have in rising beyond the U.S. Senate anytime soon.
• Nicolle Wallace: The GOP’s New Roadmap• Lloyd Grove: The Kennedys React to Coakley’s Loss• Samuel P. Jacobs: Who Will Fall Next?Already one of Brown's most prominent backers, RedState.com's Erick Erickson, is throwing cold water on the idea, suggesting that the senator-elect's moderate record on abortion and—ironically—health-care reform could put a ceiling on his support among members of the GOP base.
“Scott Brown will be neither a presidential candidate nor a vice-presidential candidate in 2012,” Erickson said in an email. “He is pro-choice and favors an expanded government role in health care. He could never make it out of a Republican primary as a presidential candidate and would never be acceptable to the base as a vice-presidential candidate. His acceptance by the base of the GOP is premised on him being a New England Republican who is a perfect fit for the Massachusetts Senate seat. Conservatives were happy to support him as he sought that position, but probably would not for a national campaign.”
There is recent precedent for that issue to squelch a candidate’s veep chances. Indeed, if Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Game Change is to be believed, John McCain's first choice to join his 2008 ticket, Sen. Joe Lieberman, was blocked primarily due to his pro-choice views.
On the other hand, Massachusetts Republicans who want to go national have changed their views on abortion before: Think Mitt Romney. And Erickson’s concerns are hardly universal, even among pro-life groups. Indeed, a number of prominent antiabortion organizations issued statements praising Brown's election to the Senate, suggesting at least some base level of admiration.
Then there is the issue of vetting. One of the nation’s most influential conservatives is wary of promoting Brown too far too fast—mindful of the fact that he’s a largely unknown quantity at this point.
“I want a chastity belt on this man,” Glenn Beck said of Brown on his radio show Wednesday. “I want his every move watched in Washington. I don't trust this guy. This one could end with a dead intern. I'm just saying. It could end with a dead intern.”
One of the major criticisms of Martha Coakley is that her campaign performed little to no opposition research on their GOP rival until the 11th hour. Who knows what the much more intense scrutiny of a national campaign would yield?
A former senior adviser to Edwards' campaign, Joe Trippi, told The Daily Beast that although Brown had potential, it was far too early to evaluate his chances.
“He could be another Sarah Palin or he could really turn out to be a leader of the GOP, but is he even a senator yet?” Trippi said. “It's certainly a possibility, but as with any elected official, time will tell.”
Fred Davis, a Republican consultant who worked on the McCain campaign, said in an email that Brown was "exciting" but still an unknown and the myriad factors behind his election win could obscure his personal appeal in the short term.
“Is it the man, the upheaval Obama caused in the country, or both?” Davis said.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.