So, presuming the reports on Brownback are accurate, it means we’ll be seeing one less podium at these Republican debates, and the departure of a decent man who made a rather hapless presidential candidate.
When the campaign began, Brownback seemed well-positioned to carve out a unique niche for himself, call it “The Republican Most Likely to Appeal to U2′s Bono.” Sure, Brownback was a deeply religious Christian, seeking to be the religious right’s favorite, but that faith manifested itself in active focus on some uncommon issues: genocide in Darfur, human trafficking and slavery, malaria relief and AIDS in Africa. His slogan should have been, “Think Devotionally, Act Globally.” Few campaigns have an escaped Sudanese slave introducing the candidate at events.
But Brownback’s campaign never seemed to hit its stride. He got into odd, surprisingly nasty fights with some other candidates, a strangely aggressive and negative style for a positive and decent man. Then he voted first yes, then no, on the immigration bill, and that hurt him badly. “Senator Switchback” was a too-easy derisive nickname.
In the debates, he faded into the background of a crowded stage. Affable and soft-spoken just didn’t stand out compared to the punchlines of Mike Huckabee, the jittery anger of Tom Tancredo, or the… whatever it is that Ron Paul has.
Then he came in third in the Iowa straw poll, in a field that lacked Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain. The buzz afterwards was deadly. Rich described the “extreme pointlessness” of his campaign, and the Brownbackers never really came up with a compelling counter-argument. I don’t know if Brownback failed to manage expectations at the Ames Straw poll; he bet big that he would come in a respectable second to Romney and he didn’t. Right before the results, I asked, “if he can’t grab a big chunk of Republican voters from a Midwestern farming state with a lot of social conservatives, where else can he get them?” The answer was, he couldn’t.
Destiny probably has other great achievements in store for Sam Brownback. But the presidency, as of January 20, 2009, isn’t one of them.