Scott Brown won. To borrow and paraphrase a line from The Candidate, “Now what?”
There are many potential political fates, I suppose, but three seem most likely to me:
1. Scott Brown, fleeting placeholder and short-term hero. He’s the flavor of the month, disappears out of view into the Senate, loses in 2012 when the Democrats have a credible and aggressive candidate running in a presidential cycle.
2. Scott Brown, long-time Senate partisan anomaly. Brown wins re-election in 2012, emerges as a Republican cornerstone in the Senate in a state where his party normally fares poorly. (Think retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan.)
3. Scott Brown, rising star in a party desperate for fresh faces. Not quite Sarah Palin superstardom, but Brown is immediately elevated to role of GOP icon—a party savior, the guy the GOP sends around to raise money and stump for other Republicans, and so forth.
If I had to bet, I’d pick the last. Why?
Because all the elements are there:
*Brown won a symbolically powerful political victory that, in a bat of a political eye, instantly nationalized his brand in a way that a win during a regularly-scheduled November election rarely does. (The most recent case of a candidate so immediately break into the national conversation during a regular election night—no less, during a presidential cycle—was Barack Obama.)
*He did so in a very liberal state to replace the person who, other than perhaps the Clintons, has served as the most convenient and useful bête noire for Republicans and the conservative movement more specifically.
*The GOP is starving for somebody in Washington who is young, telegenic, compelling and doesn’t come across as either a nay-saying scrooge like Mitch McConnell, or a young but wooden conservative firebrand like Eric Cantor.
*Let’s face it: Brown has the look of a presidential candidate.
I’m not sure if Massachusetts—like Connecticut, as we learned during the 2000 campaign—allows a candidate to run both for Senate and be on the national ticket. Maybe Brown will be unable to harbor any hopes of being a national candidate because he’ll be busy trying to survive an electoral assault to prevent his re-election to the Senate.
But if not, he’s going to be a short-lister for every GOP presidential contender. It doesn’t matter if he emerges as a great legislator or policy mench in the next two years: Scott Brown will be known as the “guy who took away the Democrats’ (supposedly) filibuster-proof majority,” the guy who “sent a shiver down the spine of the Obama Administration,” and, of course, the “guy who won Teddy’s seat.”
You can’t buy branding like that.