What in the world is Scott Brown thinking?

The former Massachusetts senator will never win a Republican presidential primary -- but he's got other motives

Published August 19, 2013 3:20PM (EDT)

Scott Brown                    (AP/Alex Brandon)
Scott Brown (AP/Alex Brandon)

Former Massachusetts senator and current Wall Street lobbyish (he's not technically a lobbyist, but come on ...) Scott Brown visited Iowa this weekend and personally told reporters that he's thinking about running for president, governor of Massachusetts, or even senator from New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home. It's never a good sign when you have to raise the prospects of a presidential bid yourself, as opposed to letting allies and surrogates build the buzz for you and then reluctantly jumping in once there's an an apparent groundswell of demand, so one might wonder what his play is here.

Let's get one thing straight: Scott Brown will never win a Republican primary. Not even close. The primary process is dominated by the most ardent GOP voters and activists, the kinds of people who want a red-blooded conservative populist, not some self-proclaimed "bipartisan problem solver" who bent over backward in his 2012 race to paint himself as a moderate salve to the Tea Party's intransigence (a race he lost, by the way). A majority of Republican voters want the party to be more conservative than it already is (just 35 percent of Democrats say their party should be more liberal). And many of the grass-roots leaders important to winning primaries in places like Iowa and South Carolina say Mitt Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough.

The story of the 2012 primary was the story of candidates trying to out-Goldwater one another, where Gov. Rick Perry got pilloried for suggesting that his fellow conservatives have a heart when it comes to undocumented immigrants and Tea Party activists yelled that young people should be allowed to die because they lack health insurance. Remember, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum were the front-runners at various points. And there's little indication the grass roots will change their priorities by 2016, even as party leaders in Washington desperately try to rebrand.

Brown says there's room for a moderate, as the rest of the pack competes for the right. But look at how well that strategy worked out for Jon Huntsman, who had more money, more favorable press and better credentials than Brown will. Huntsman didn't make it past Jan. 15. And besides, if Republican voters suddenly decide they want a blue-state "moderate," they'll (probably) have Chris Christie, who has the benefit of actually being successful in his Democratic home state and is many times the politician Scott Brown could ever hope to be.

As for ousting New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, that seems only marginally more likely that winning the White House. Republican have had difficulty finding someone to challenge the popular Democrat, even though the race should theoretically be competitive, and New Hampshire voters may not take kindly to a carpetbagger like Brown. Shaheen trounced Brown in a poll from earlier this year.

Which all demands the question: What the hell is Scott Brown thinking? First of all, it almost never hurts to fake a run for the presidency. If expectations are low, and they definitely are for Brown (see: above), then you have nowhere to go but up. A failed bid that manages to capture at least a sliver of the electorate and last past New Hampshire -- where Brown would presumably be strong -- can keep you relevant, boost your visibility, and get you booked on TV. That's valuable to Brown's Wall Street clients, and it's valuable to Brown if he wants to run for governor or another office down the road.

He could also just want "an opportunity to get my views out," as Rep. Peter King acknowledged of his even more hopeless, self-floated potential presidential run.

Or maybe Brown is actually running for a position you can't actually run for: the vice-presidential slot. It's conceivable that a conservative candidate like Rick Santorum or Marco Rubio would want to cleanse himself after selling his soul to the Tea Party in the primary by hiring a moderate blue-stater like Scott Brown to help him make the inevitable trek back to middle for the general election. Maybe. In that case, Brown probably has little to lose.

And one final question: Why does no one seem to be questioning Brown's qualifications to run (even if they're questioning his chances), when the woman who defeated him, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has faced a slew of condescending coverage about a hypothetical presidential run?

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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