Way More Mr. Nice Guy
Scott Brown rode his pickup, barn coat, and genuine likability all the way to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Two years later the charm offensive is back and bigger than ever. But can Brown convince Massachusetts voters to return him to Washington just because he’s a good man?
Brown initially refused several requests to speak with me for this story because, I heard indirectly, the magazine had run an article about him a few years ago that he found to be overly negative. Eventually, though, he changes his mind and agrees to give me time for a few questions. So after the Plymouth campaign stop, we meet at an Italian restaurant.
I bring up the issue of taxes, mentioning Grover Norquist, the Republican activist who’s fashioned something of a career for himself by demanding that GOP candidates across the country pledge to never raise them. The idea is that fewer tax revenues will result in lower government spending. Moderate Republicans like George H. W. Bush and Jeb Bush have recently criticized Norquist’s pledge, believing that it’s bad policy and bad politics. Bruce Bartlett, an economist and historian who’s worked for Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, Jack Kemp, and the elder Bush, told me: “If you believe in Norquist’s ‘starve the beast’ theory … all the tax cuts of the [George W.] Bush administration should have caused spending to go down. It went up. The history of the past 20 years proves conclusively the exact opposite of the theory that underlies Grover Norquist’s whole reason for being.” That sounds like exactly the kind of stance that a middle-of-the-road politician from a liberal state could embrace. Instead, Brown seems almost annoyed that Norquist would get the credit for insisting on no tax increases. “I’m glad Grover agrees with me that we shouldn’t be raising taxes in the middle of a three-year recession,” Brown tells me. “And if people want somebody who’s going to raise taxes, they can vote for Professor Warren. If they want somebody who’s going to hold the line, they vote for me. It’s pretty simple.”
From there, Brown pivots to a recent success, a last-minute agreement hammered out by the two parties that prevented interest rates on student loans from doubling. Brown had been pummeled by Democrats for weeks for not agreeing to their proposed method of paying for the student-loan bill. To Brown, the criticism was a sign he was doing his job. “You have to sit down and you have to look people in the eye, you have to negotiate with them, and that’s what we did,” he says. “We got flood insurance, we got the highway bill, and we got student loans. Now, [Warren] would have just settled for the student loans and taxed it on the back of our sub-S corporations. That’s a failure.”