This post is somewhat in line with Sean’s post from Saturday, but, I think there can be a different reading of Scott Brown’s conservative pedigree or lack there of.
Boris Shor, an Assistant-Professor at the University of Chicago, has created a fascinating, and telling, break down of Scott Brown’s votes and political stances in the Massachusetts legislature. Normally, I do not give much thought to the bare bones statistical analysis of politicians and their voting strategies. Statistics are good for a foundation of understanding, but ultimately, as Benjamin Disraeli said (I may be butchering this but this is to the best of my recollection):
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
I’m skeptical. After several courses on political and statistical analysis, one develops the sense that numbers are just fun little tools to make lies into truths. But enough of my curmudgeonry towards the mathematics. What Shor has compiled, and revealed is really incredible, but also, the conclusion is extremely important for how conservative activists should approach candidates in the future. Shor states:
Brown is attracting very positive national and state Republican and conservative attention. On the other hand, State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava attracted very negative attention from conservatives in her special election campaign for the 23rd Congressional District of New York.
Brown is actually a liberal Republican who is to be found to the left of Dede Scozzafava! So why, then, the enthusiasm gap in support for the two? This post documents this assertion, and then answers this puzzle.
Citing my ongoing research on ideology in state legislatures in an earlier blog post, I made some waves by arguing that Scozzafava was actually a conservative Republican in a particular context. That context was the New York State legislature, where Republicans are exceedingly liberal relative to the rest of the country. In fact, she was actually located slightly to the right of the average Republican in the legislature. Despite this, there was a firestorm of opposition to her, leading to an insurgent challenge by Doug Hoffman under the Conservative Party label and her subsequent withdrawal from the campaign.
And in regards to Brown:
Brown’s score puts him at the 34th percentile of his party in Massachusetts over the 1995-2006 time period. In other words, two thirds of other Massachusetts Republican state legislators were more conservative than he was. This is evidence for my claim that he’s a liberal even in his own party. What’s remarkable about this is the fact that Massachusetts Republicans are the most, or nearly the most, liberal Republicans in the entire country!
Shor’s research shows us that even compared to Dede Scozzafava, Scott Brown is a very liberal Republican. But, like almost every aspect of statistics, there is a caveat, a very very important caveat. Despite being very liberal in his politics, Brown, when taking into account the the ideological ratings of Democrats in Massachusetts, is actual very moderate, not a stalwart conservative still, but for the people of Massachusetts, a palatable centrist who has a very good chance of winning a U.S. Senate election against a very liberal Democrat, Martha Coakley. Shor similarly states :
In other words, what began as a puzzle turns out not to be much of oneat all. It makes perfect sense that Scott Brown, a liberal Massachusetts Republican, has attracted Republican and conservative support. He’s perfectly suited for his liberal state electorate [emphasis added]. Dede Scozzafava, in fact considerably more conservative than Scott Brown was not nearly so well matched to her intended constituency, the relatively conservative 23rd District that had returned moderate conservative John McHugh since the 1992 election.
What this shows, however, is that the conservative base in the United States, far from dragging their party moblike into an unelectable extreme, has made the decentralized decision to support the realistically best candidate they can relative to the context in which he’s being elected. The 23rd special district election can also be seen in this light; throwing Scozzafava overboard made far more sense in the context of that electorate.
Supporting Brown in Massachusetts or Hoffman in New York really just models a basic prisoners dilemma. We must simply go with the most conservative candidate offered, that remains electorally competative. Brown is more conservative than Coakley, Hoffman was more conservative than Scozzafava and Democrat Bill Owens. In the case of Massachusetts, the electorate is liberal (unlike the NY-23), and conservatives have rightly understood that the likely hood of a conservative winning in the mold of the late Senators Taft or Goldwater just is not going to happen. The seat belongs to Massachusetts, not Washington D.C., not out of state conservative activists, and definitely not the Kennedy’s.