By contrast, Scott Brown commanded broad enthusiasm throughout the Republican Party, from libertarians to vegetarians, to borrow an old joke of John McCain’s. Does the breadth of enthusiasm bespeak a broadening of accepted views? If so, Tuesday’s big victory offers more than hope for a better quality of health reform. It offers hope that the Republican Party has truly recovered its center – and its way not only to win, but to be deserving of it. ~David Frum
It seems that the breadth of enthusiasm for Brown is not really a sign of the “broadening of accepted views.” As Frum noted, Brown is likely to be to the left of Specter once he starts voting in the Senate, and movement activists and party regulars were glad to be rid of Specter last year, so it might appear as if something has changed in atittudes toward moderates. However, the enthusiasm for Brown was not an expression of newfound acceptance of moderate Northeastern Republicans. It is not as if movement conservatives recognized an error in pushing Specter to switch parties and wanted to remedy it by replacing him with an even more liberal Republican from Massachusetts. As I mentioned earlier, the selective outrage that targets the less liberal Specter and Crist with serious primary challenges but leaves the more liberal Brown unscathed depends entirely on the degree to which the moderate Republican opposes or embraces Obama’s agenda.
Specter and Crist crossed the line by respectively backing and embracing the stimulus bill. Brown won boundless sympathy and admiration for pledging to kill the health care bill. There is still an “ideological straitjacket” limiting what Republican candidates can do, but its dimensions may be a little different than they were in the past. The most important factor in determining whether or not movement and party will rally behind a Republican candidate is his readiness to thwart Obama. Everything else is secondary and will be overlooked, so long as the candidate doesn’t have presidential aspirations.
Just look at how quickly the Huntsman ’12 talk evaporated almost as soon as he began to become a national figure. Huntsman went to Beijing as ambassador in part because he surveyed the political landscape and realized that there was too much resistance even to a pro-life Utah Republican candidate who had supported the Western Climate Initiative, backed civil unions and acquired a reputation for reasonableness. Bob Bennett is currently discovering that his positions on the environment and health care are not really welcome in the Utah GOP. The primary challenge against Bennett and the broad conservative enthusiasm for Brown actually stem from the same desire to oppose health care legislation. In other words, at least as far as national Republican and conservative support for Brown are concerned, Brown has profited from the same political pressure that sent Huntsman to China and made Specter a Democrat. As soon as Brown reveals that he really is a moderate Northeastern Republican, conservative enthusiasm will disappear.