Fred Barnes: 'Brown Effect' aligns tea party movement with moderates

Fred Barnes
Scott Brown's victory spoils the fable of a death struggle pitting tea party populists and angry conservatives against moderates and the Republican hierarchy. That myth foresaw conservatives refusing to support candidates with even the slightest of moderate tendencies, dividing the party, and ruining its chances in the 2010 elections.

In Massachusetts, conservatives preferred victory to purity. Brown is not a social conservative. He's pro-choice and, while supporting traditional marriage, believes "states should be free to make their own laws in this area."

Yet conservatives and tea partiers joined moderates and independents in the Brown coalition. This was actually one of the smaller manifestations of the Brown Effect.

The bigger ones include: An enormous psychological boost for Republicans of all stripes, a firm belief they can win anywhere, help in recruiting strong candidates and raising money for the midterms, the death of the Obama mystique, a critical 41st Republican vote in the Senate, and a stirring example of how to win.

This breakthrough may foreshadow a Republican revival after the lost elections of 2006 and 2008. Brown's victory "was not just symbolic," insists Republican consultant Frank Luntz. "It's representative of a change in the public's mind-set."

But Republicans must be wary. "Republicans -- not President Obama or Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid -- will decide their future," Luntz says. The midterm elections in November "will require a genuine break with the past."

Luntz's advice includes opposing earmarks, "a laserlike focus on wasteful Washington spending," and "no tolerance for ethical malfeasance whatsoever -- no more Mark Foleys."

Pre-Brown, Republicans were more excited than Democrats. The Brown Effect only adds to their enthusiasm to defeat Democrats, Obama, and their agenda, and elect Republicans.

This is crucial because zeal creates turnout. Republican turnout sagged in 2006 and 2008, then soared last year in New Jersey and Virginia, which replaced Democratic governors with Republicans.

The Brown Effect has also galvanized independents and made them almost as fervent as Republicans.

Republicans are now three for their last three in stirring independents. In New Jersey and Virginia, independents went 2-to-1 for the Republican candidates. In Massachusetts, Brown had a 3-to-1 advantage among independent voters, according to a Rasmussen poll.

The Brown Effect has debunked the idea of the persuasiveness of Obama's oratory. The president delivered 29 speeches to promote his health care plan last year. His campaigning in New Jersey and Virginia didn't help the Democrat, nor did his appearance in Boston aid Coakley. If Obama's magic didn't work in Massachusetts, it's gone.

And if a Republican can win in Massachusetts, a Republican can win anywhere. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who's recruiting House candidates, puts it differently. "If we can win Barney Frank's district [Brown apparently carried Massachusetts's Fourth Congressional District by 1 point], we can win anywhere," he says.

McCarthy believes 2010 will be a wave election. He's returning to potential candidates who declined to run earlier, figuring they couldn't win. After Brown's victory, "they now see it as doable." Richard Hanna, who lost narrowly in 2008 to Democrat Michael Arcuri in upstate New York, filed to run again the day after Brown won in Massachusetts.

Brown's near-flawless campaign is an example for Republican candidates to follow, especially in Democrat-leaning states. He was skillful in encapsulating an anti-Obama message: "Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the wrong agenda for our country."

That's a mantra conservatives, tea party people, moderates, and independents can embrace. The Brown Effect leaves them nothing to fight about and much to fight for.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard, from which this article is adapted.

View article comments Leave a comment