Home/Daniel Larison/Strategic Thinking, Selective Outrage

Strategic Thinking, Selective Outrage

Now — Scott Brown has run as a conservative candidate, and not a moderate, and isn’t terribly popular with the GOP establishment. That makes him all the more attractive to the anti-establishment factions in the TP movement. There are plenty of Tea Partiers who want to buck the two party system, and plenty more who wouldn’t support a pro-choicer, but there seem to be more than a bucketful of them who want to leverage their energy into getting Republicans elected to Congress — Republicans who can be counted on to block the Democratic Party’s agenda. ~Marc Ambinder

The interesting thing is that the activist support for Scott Brown seems to be somewhat different from the inexplicably nationalized nature of Hoffman’s campaign and the overwhelmingly national sources of his support. Instead of fitting the cookie-cutter model of the nationally-acceptable, talk radio-approved conservative, Scott Brown seems more suited to and interested in the state he wants to represent. Despite being pretty much a classic moderate Massachusetts Republican in the Weld-Romney mold, he seems to be winning Tea Party and movement activist support, and he seems to be winning it because he has a better-than-expected chance of winning in traditionally very difficult territory. Interestingly, he has distanced himself from the GOP much as Romney did when he first ran for Senate, but in the present environment Brown’s self-declared independence is both politically smart in Massachusetts and it has not been a cause of conservative activist dismay.

So Tea Party activists in the Northeast are backing a viable candidate in Massachusetts to seize the opportunity of competing for an open Senate seat. This should make clear that the nature of the Tea Party agenda is going to depend on the region where the activists are operating, and it should also emphasize how relatively unimportant social conservative issues are to the Tea Party agenda, whose focus is heavily fiscal and economic. The willingness to acknowledge regional political differences is an encouraging sign that these activists could combine their anti-establishment populists instincts with attention to local political conditions and grievances. That shows the flexibility needed to rebuild a national political coalition.

It also suggests that the specter of vote-splitting between Republican candidates and Tea Party activist-backed candidates is mostly the product of wishful thinking on the part of national Democratic committeemen. Tea Partiers may be quite ready to support reasonably tolerable Republican candidates, so long as those candidates have not crossed certain red lines of offering support to the administration’s agenda. Even though Crist is closer to movement conservatives in some ways on paper than Brown, Crist crossed the red line of actively endorsing the stimulus legislation. It seems that this, more than anything else, has been killing Crist during the primary.

Granted, the vote next week is a special election in a midterm year, so we should expect the insurgent Republican candidate to have a much better chance than he would normally have in a general election there, but even though Brown will probably still lose narrowly he will have done so in a statewide race in a traditionally Democratic state. This makes him extremely different from Hoffman, who failed to win in an historically Republican district that was also one of the most right-leaning House districts in the region.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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