You Call This a Republican?

By Romano, Andrew | Newsweek, February 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

You Call This a Republican?


Romano, Andrew, Newsweek


Byline: Andrew Romano

Scott Brown was the Tea Party's first big electoral coup--in Massachusetts, no less. Then Ted Kennedy's successor began siding--again and again--with Barack Obama. Now some angry Tea Partiers want to oust him.

Scott Brown isn't himself. Which is to say, he isn't sounding much like the square-jawed, truck-driving, barn-jacket-bedecked Scott Brown--the calm, cool, collected Captain America--who stunned the political world a year ago by winning the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate. It's lunchtime in the blue-collar town of Pittsfield, Mass., and Brown, who's touring the Berkshires for the first time since taking office, is addressing a crowd of 200 Rotarians in the grand ballroom of the Crowne Plaza hotel. At first he seems poised enough. He makes fun of himself for announcing that his daughters were "available" in his first speech as a senator-elect. He reminisces about how he "drove too fast" and sneaked into concerts while summering nearby as a teen. He even jokes that he "did very well" in 2010 with the notoriously liberal locals. "I won the town of Otis," he says. "That's about three votes."

But then, as the sedate audience sips chowder and grazes on cold cuts, something seems to set Brown off. According to the accepted Beltway storyline, the Bay State sent Brown to Washington to thwart an overreaching Democratic majority, thereby triggering the Tea Party "revolution" that would go on to fuel the GOP's historic midterm gains. The problem with the official narrative, however, is that since arriving on the Hill, Brown has sided with Dems almost as often as he's stymied them, defying his party on issues as diverse as "don't ask, don't tell," financial reform, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and the February 2010 jobs bill. Now, as a reward for his independence, the Tea Partiers who took credit for Brown's win are starting to turn against him. Democrats, meanwhile, remain suspicious.

The strain of walking such a fine line must be getting to Brown, because as soon as he finishes his initial round of pleasantries, he launches into a peevish rant about how unfair conservatives are being when they criticize him. "The Democrats are in charge!" he shouts, his voice reaching the high, strained register that teenagers typically use when they don't want to take out the trash. "Does that mean I'm supposed to do nothing? That I'm supposed to vote with my party every single second of every single day? Why? I haven't done it for 15 years in the state legislature. All of a sudden I'm supposed to be an ideologue? I'm not quite sure what the mystery is, folks. When I hear some of the comments--I don't know what the mystery is. I said I was going down there to be a Scott Brown Republican, not someone who works for Harry Reid--or Mitch McConnell!" It's as if Brown is no longer addressing the people in the room--again, they're mostly Democrats. Instead, he seems to be fending off foes in Washington, real or otherwise. Unsure of how to react, the crowd quietly pokes at its meatloaf.

For Brown, winning a long-shot campaign in deep-blue Massachusetts to succeed one of the most liberal and lionized members of the Senate was the easy part. The real challenge was what came next: the struggle to define himself as a so-called Scott Brown Republican at a time when partisanship and polarization are more prevalent than ever. "A lot of senators do everything they can to avoid taking tough votes," he tells NEWSWEEK. "But every single vote I've taken has been a tough vote for me."

Brown's party-of-one positioning has made him a uniquely powerful freshman--able, as he often reminds his constituents, to squelch legislation (as "the 41st vote") or ensure its passage (as "the 60th"). But it has also exposed him to incessant attacks from both the left and the right. In early January, Republican activist Scott Wheeler announced that his PAC, which invested $95,000 in Brown's 2010 campaign, will "do everything possible to see that [he] is defeated by a primary opponent when he faces reelection in 2012? …

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