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Um, Senator Brown, got a minute?
Let me be blunt. You are in imminent danger of becoming former Senator Scott Brown.
Why? Well, for starters, you’re running a dumb campaign in a smart state.
You have basically been rolling burning barrels out of the back of your truck at Elizabeth Warren, hoping to raise enough doubts to disqualify her in voters’ minds.
That explains your obsessive harping on her undocumented claim of Native American heritage and the “questions” it supposedly raises. And your ads that twist complicated legal cases she’s been involved with into a narrative that portrays her as a legal gun-for-hire who has enriched herself by helping corporations run roughshod over everyday people.
People aren’t buying that, Senator, and with good reason. Your charges really don’t fit the facts. Instead, your debate and TV attacks have made you seem petty and desperate — and not the likable guy voters once thought you were. Further, the course you’ve taken presumes that people care more about dubious character charges than they do about the issues of the day.
Meanwhile, you’ve got a big structural problem that you’ve let fester. You belong to a national party that is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts. That’s not an easy challenge for a Bay State Republican to overcome. Just ask Bill Weld, who went down to defeat in his 1996 Senate race largely for that reason. Or Peter Torkildsen and Peter Blute, two likable Republican House members who fell victim to that same dynamic.
Despite your more moderate inclinations, as it stands now, a vote for you is a vote to put a right-wing party in control of the US Senate. And if Republicans win the Senate, that would spell a callithumpian parade of anti-choice, anti-government conservatives in key legislative posts. Men like Mitch McConnell, who as minority leader has made abuse of the filibuster his calling card. And climate-science denier James Inhofe of Oklahoma. And Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
If you’d been far-sighted, you would have worked from the day of your arrival in Washington to build a moderate Senate bloc that wielded genuine influence. At very least, you should have announced early on that you wouldn’t be joining reflexive Republican filibusters, but instead would routinely vote to bring measures to the Senate floor for debate on the merits.
If you’d done both, you’d be on much firmer footing today. You could still take the latter step. But it will require more than that to defuse concerns that reelecting you will enable Republican right-wingers. You’ve made a tiny step in the right direction by saying you wouldn’t be an automatic vote for McConnell for Republican leader. In a recent ABC News interview, you said you’d wait to see if anyone challenges McConnell before deciding whom you’ll support. But that’s a dodge designed to finesse the issue without truly addressing it.
Here’s what you could do, however: Declare that you will join with Maine independent Angus King, the favorite to replace Olympia Snowe, in seeking real, gridlock-ending, Senate reform. And that you will support whichever candidate for majority leader, Republican or Democrat, promises to back such reforms.
That would be bold. But you’d have to be sincere about it. And given that Democrat Harry Reid, the current majority leader, says he plans to do filibuster reform, you’d have to acknowledge that keeping your pledge could mean voting for the Democrats to control the Senate.
Finally, Senator, you have to find something realistic to say on taxes and the deficit. Warren is hitting you hard for voting to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage because Republicans couldn’t get them extended for upper earners as well. What’s more, her deficit-reduction remedies are much better than yours because she wants to let the upper-income breaks expire.
Your best move? Declare that you’re prepared to break the “no new taxes” pledge you made to Grover Norquist and support the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan. Further, promise to push hard to bring that cuts-plus-revenue package to the floor.
Taken together, those moves would breathe vital life into your claim to be a gutsy, determined, independent-minded senator.
Yes, there are downsides. Coming in the campaign’s final days, they would obviously seem a little desperate. And they would make you a pariah with your national party.
But let’s be honest. You are a little desperate. And better a live pariah than a dead duck.