Supporting Scott Brown: Pragmatism or Principle?

When Aaron Hanscom, PJM's managing editor, asked me to write a piece on the Massachusetts Senate race about 10 days ago, I begged off the assignment. At the time, Brown was considered something of a sacrificial lamb -- a Republican running in the most Democratic state in the nation -- and even though there was some positive buzz swirling around his candidacy, I didn't feel like writing another piece about the moribund state of the GOP in the Northeast and why Brown was destined to lose.

Today, I'm glad I didn't write that piece, although many others did. It just goes to show that American politics has the infinite capacity to surprise, to delight, and to overturn our silly, supercilious ideas about the predictability of free people when confronted with a choice that dramatically affects their future.

On January 5, pollster Scott Rasmussen had Democrat Martha Coakley ahead of Republican State Senator Scott Brown by 9 points. That poll raised a few eyebrows given the Democrats' huge advantage in registration and the presumed advantages of Coakley: name recognition, awash in cash, and the intangible of running for a seat held so long by Ted Kennedy.

But something entirely unpredictable was happening that would alter the dynamic of the race and propel Brown into the competitive position he enjoys today. The people of Massachusetts began to realize that sending Scott Brown to the United States Senate is a golden opportunity to let the politicians in D.C. know that they are fed up with a stinking economy, the jobless recovery, the maniacal spending, and the obsessive concentration on a health care reform bill even liberal Massachusettians oppose.

And Coakley played her role as heir apparent to this elitist, liberal legacy perfectly. She rarely campaigned among ordinary voters. She refused to debate. And in the last week, she has all but imploded with a series of gaffes that revealed the candidate to be insensitive, clueless, and not ready for prime time.

Couple that with voters taking a good look at the dynamic Brown, and the 9-point gap in the polls on January 5 has morphed into a 4-point lead by Brown in a Suffolk University poll out Friday. Meanwhile, a Pajamas Media-CrossTarget poll has Brown by a whopping 15 points.

But beyond voters wanting to send a message, there is something else happening in Massachusetts. A new kind of Republican is bidding to redefine the GOP in the Northeast with a message of fiscal discipline and low taxes, but with a "socially conscious" agenda as well.

You can't pigeonhole Scott Brown. He's a conservative -- but he's not. He's a squishy RINO -- but he's not. He's pro-choice, pro-gun, pro-consumer protection, pro-free market, and pro-environment. He opposes gay marriage but supported a regional cap-and-trade scheme -- a vote he now says was a mistake. He supported the Massachusetts health insurance plan promoted by Mitt Romney with its individual mandate, although he now says that they need to get costs under control.

The picture that emerges after examining this fellow's record and his position on the issues is one of an independent thinker with conservative principles who doesn't allow ideology to dominate his thinking or his politics. Prudent, pragmatic, reasonable, but not squishy about where he stands (see his fight to repeal the sales tax increase and his battle over gay marriage).

He appears to be thoughtful and nuanced. His abortion stance mixes classic libertarian thinking with the concerns of a parent with two daughters. He grants women the right to choose and opposes partial birth abortions, but he wants strict parental notification requirements as well.