Go ahead and stick a fork in the image — or, more accurately, the illusion — of Scott Brown as the affable everyman, the consummate good guy who folds laundry before pointing his pickup toward the docks to shoot the breeze with his fishermen friends.
It took him less than 30 seconds at last week’s debate to try and claw the eyes out of his opponent by questioning her character, honor, and truthfulness. He summoned the press corps he generally disdains to his office the following morning to distort Elizabeth Warren’s work on an asbestos case. He released his first negative ad on statewide TV Monday. His daily schedule on Tuesday included the line that he was “available to the media to address today’s revelation that Professor Warren worked on behalf of LTV Steel Company.”
And then, of course, there are his idiotic underlings filmed making tomahawk chops and reciting ridiculous Indian chants at a Dorchester rally. Nice.
It brings new meaning to being a Scott Brown Republican.
Boston is atwitter with half-cocked pundits wondering whether Brown is taking too big a risk by going too negative too soon. Here’s what they’ve got wrong: It may not be a strategy. It’s probably just who he is. When things went well, when he glided into the Senate on the wings of a short campaign and a hapless opponent, Scott Brown was as charming as they come.
But as the polls turn and the specter looms of being a former somebody, Brown is a different man, a lesser one, a frat house bully spewing sophomoric lines like “Can you imagine 100 Professor Warrens down there” while trying to reheat leftover attacks.
It was never going to be as easy for him as people thought. When Brown won the special election in 2010, Washington seized up. The Tea Party was validated. The president was humbled. The future of health care reform and just about every other public policy was called into question.
Nearly 100 members of the news media chronicled Brown’s arrival on Capitol Hill. A publisher tossed a million-dollar book deal his way. There wasn’t a network news show that wouldn’t have moved heaven and earth for 10 minutes of his time.
But honestly and obviously, the man was never as big as the moment. Not many politicians would have been. He followed, rather than led. He privately carped that he wasn’t getting enough credit. He indulged in self-serving illusions of meetings with monarchs and top secret briefings on Osama bin Laden’s death.
All along, he faced a treacherous course to reelection. Brown needed to win the financial backing of national Republican donors and the support of Massachusetts Democratic voters, which may explain why his ads often deal more with his family than yours. He believed, or at least hoped, his good-guy image would be more important than his Senate record. Not anymore.
But as the glow dulled and perceptions gave way to realities, Brown still had one key factor in his favor: Elizabeth Warren.
Just as Brown was dwarfed by the moment, Warren has been overshadowed by her own reputation. She arrived in this race as the darling of television comedy hosts, the favored friend of everyday Democrats who projected onto her superhuman attributes she can’t possibly possess.
On the stump, her standard speech is filled with platitudes and banalities, slogans, really, unbecoming of her accomplishment (“I’m in this race because I believe in America’s working families!”). Her first ads were dust-dry. Her questionable claim to Native American heritage, and the ways she might have used it, is a legitimate concern, even as it’s overplayed by Brown. Her strong debate performance last week, though, marked the first true moment of potential fulfilled.
I’ll say again what I’ve written before: Campaigns are long for a reason. In this case, Brown isn’t wearing well with time. So much of it comes down to whether Warren can rise to the moment, whether she can lift herself above an increasingly ugly fray.
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.