With his election to the Senate in a staunchly Democratic state, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) has quickly become the Republican Party’s presumptive new savior. Even though he is just assuming office, his improbable victory already has people talking about whether he could run for president in four years. The Drudge Report quickly splashed a banner across its homepage reading, “Now… Will He Run for President?” And Brown’s rapid rise, natural charisma, and huge number of fans—combined with a nude spread he did in Cosmo almost 30 years ago—led Wonkette to joke that he might be “the naked white Barack Obama.” But could Brown really challenge the actual black Obama in 2012?
Sen. Brown may have a future on the national stage. His rise would be no more rapid that Barack Obama’s or Sarah Palin’s. His ability to win in a Democratic state—and attract the vote of both movement conservatives and moderate Democrats—certainly suggests he has a great deal of potential. But there is also something premature about talk of a Brown presidency. He is like a baseball player who has been tearing up the minor leagues—and a short election against a weak opponent is really the political minor leagues. We don’t know if he can succeed at the national level against better opponents who will expose his weaknesses. Remember Bobby Jindal?
Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight sees three possible scenarios for Brown. He might be able to become a enduring partisan anomaly in the Senate, a Republican version of retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who managed to survive as a Democrat in a Republican state. Or Brown might be able to use his current fame to become a national star for the Republican Party. He is, after all, young and telegenic, on top of having won a huge symbolic victory for the party. As Schaller says, Brown just has the look of a presidential candidate. But third possibility is that Brown could be a flash in the pan who fumbles on the national stage and loses his seat in 2012 when a capable, well-prepared Democrat runs against him.
My guess is that Sen. Brown won’t be just a flash in the pan. As I wrote yesterday, Sen. Brown enters the Congress as a pivotal figure who can either block the Democrats’ agenda or cut a deal with them in exchange for political concessions. That makes him a player on the political scene right away. And while he could easily stumble, he has so far shown himself someone able to avoid major mistakes. Still, what it takes to win in Massachusetts—which, believe it or not, is still a liberal state—is very different than what it would take to become the standard-bearer for the Republican Party. He was able to attract tea party support as a candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts, where anyone further to the right wouldn’t have much chance. But, as Boris Schor argues, Brown is will easily be one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress. If he were to run for president, he’d have to move dramatically to the right or conservatives would attack him for being a RINO—a Republican in Name Only. Conservative Glenn Beck has already expressed his doubts about Brown’s character. Alluding to that nude photo shoot, Beck said that Brown ought to wear a chastity belt, adding, “This one could end with a dead intern. I’m just saying, it could end with a dead intern.”
Sen. Brown could well be the Republican nominee for president someday. But in the end he’ll almost certainly have to choose between Massachusetts and the national Republican Party.