Of all the ridiculous things that have been said about incoming Sen. Scott Brown (R) in the wake of his surprising win in true-blue Massachusetts last Tuesday—like that Brown somehow represents a nationwide repudiation of universal health care even though he voted for it and was elected by people who already enjoy it—perhaps the most ridiculous is the suggestion that he should immediately pass go, collect $200 million, and start running against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.Or is it?
The"Brown 4 Prez" speculation started as soon as the results rolled in.The morning after the election, reporters were already asking the senator-elect if he saw himself as "presidential timber."Matt Drudge led his site for days with the headline "NOW . . . WILL HE RUN FOR PRESIDENT?"—in giant red type. Conservative talk-show host Jesse Lee Peterson predicted that Brown " Darrell Delamaide of The Wall Street Journal wrote that Brown "is to the Republicans now what Barack Obama was to the Democrats in 2004—a fresh face, a new voice, an 'overnight success 'who has been working in politics for years." And the scottbrown2012.com domain name was, of course, instantly snatched up.
Ask any liberal about this whole Brown Fever thing, and she will dutifully recite the reasons why it is completely and utterly preposterous. Brown is way too inexperienced to hold the highest office in the land, she'd say. And even if he weren't, his pro-choice, pro-civil-union views would doom him with the evangelicals and social conservatives who makeup the most energetic segment of the GOP's base, possibly depressing turnout and swinging states with large black populations that were close in 2008—like Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia—in Obama's direction. What's more, she'd add, Republicans always gravitate toward former presidential candidates and familiar faces when choosing a standard bearer—not untested newcomers. Then she'd tell you again how inexperienced Brown is.
But are those arguments convincing? After listening to naysayers on the left (and right) for the past week, I'm inclined to say no.
First of all, Obama himself has effectively neutralized the experience question. Before launching his presidential bid in January 2007, Obama's résumé consisted of two years in the U.S. Senate and nearly eight years in the Illinois Legislature. By the corresponding point in the 2012 cycle—January 2011—Brown will have spent one year in the U.S. Senate and 12 years in the Massachusetts legislature. That strikes me as a roughly equal amount of seasoning. Besides, Obama's ascent proved that voters, who like Congress about as much as they like cancer, don't punish candidates who have the smarts to flee Capitol Hill as quickly as possible. Yes, a Brown bid would expose Republicans who chided Obama for his impatience to charges of hypocrisy for supporting a candidate with an equally skimpy C.V. But that story would last a day. Obama would be unable to attack Brown on the résumé question for the entire campaign. In other words, if there's any election year in which the GOP should suppress its ancient tendency to support the next (old, boring white guy) in line, then 2012—when they'll be running against a young, charismatic black guy who hadn't had much experience himself—is it.
In fact, the more time Brown spends in the Senate, the less attractive a candidate he'll likely become. For starters, Brown is up for reelection in deeply Democratic Massachusetts in 2012, which means that he will be forced to balance competing priorities from the moment he arrives in Washington: that is, remaining viable with Bay State voters by staying true to his (socially liberal) New England Republican values, while at the same time appeasing national party leaders who are far more conservative than he is. Attempting to keep both plates spinning will inevitably make Brown look inauthentic and undermine his core "guy next door" appeal, so the less time he spends doing it, the better. Deciding early on to run for higher office could simplify matters considerably. Alternately, if Brown declines to aim for the White House in 2012 and then loses his new Senate seat that November—a distinct possibility, given the political makeup of Massachusetts and the resources the Democratic Party plans to pour into the race—he will no longer have a platform from which to launch a national bid later on. As with Obama and "change," Brown's unique message—I'm the man who put an end to the president's health-care push; now let me have a crack at the rest of his agenda—will expire by the time the next election cycle rolls around.
None of this is to say Brown would win in 2012, or that a Brown bid is the best option for the Republican Party. His candidacy would still be crippled (and perhaps killed) by apathy or even outright hostility among the GOP's evangelical base, and it's hard to imagine his mentor, Mitt Romney, simply stepping aside. But the alternatives are not particularly attractive: six years in the Senate or four years in the wilderness; familiarity breeding contempt or absence leading to obsolescence; a more crowded, talented field in 2016, either way. On the other hand, if Brown runs for the presidency in 2012 and loses—the likely outcome for anyone vying against an incumbent—he will immediately become the GOP's "next in line." He could run for governor, or, if he falls short in the Republican primaries, for vice president. Ultimately my point is that, despite the understandable urge to dismiss all this absurdly premature speculation, Scott Brown's running for president in 2012 might wind up being the best available option for Scott Brown.
And who wouldn't expect a politician to look out for No. 1?