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An Unthreatening Populism


If Bob McDonnell’s campaign was a model of how to apply conservative principles to quality-of-life issues important to voters, Scott Brown’s is a model of an unthreatening, ordinary-guy populism. He represents a rejection of the Obama agenda, but is personally upbeat and thoroughly reasonable-seeming — the political sweet-spot for a Republican right now. It’s amazing how quickly the end of the Bush/DeLay era has re-grounded the GOP, at least as exemplified by this campaign. In the abstract, which would you rather be — the party of the candidate who rides around in his truck, raises money in grass-roots “money bombs” over the internet, and runs positive ads, or the candidate who is propped up by a party establishment, raises money at DC fundraisers filled with lobbyists, and runs cookie-cutter negative ads that could be written by any sophomore political-science major? Obviously, it’s the former. And the dynamic of this race now may be that everything that Coakley does — the Big Guns coming in for her, including Obama, and the ads saturating the airwaves — just reinforce Brown’s appeal as the underdog outsider and her weakness as the overdog from the establishment. This is someting that the E. J. Dionne’s and Frank Rich’s don’t get when they say the Democrats have to disassociate themselves from Wall Street. It’s not that that’s hurting them so much as their status as insiders — cutting back-room deals, handing out favors, using every lever of political power — in this populist moment. Put on top of that their desperate rush to pass an unpopular agenda, and they’ve created the environment (as Jonah points out today) that makes a Scott Brown victory at least possible.


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