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The Scott Brown case study

The former senator, running in a new state, wants to exploit ISIS fears for partisan gain. He's just not sure how best to do that.
Scott Brown works the phone banks at the New Hampshire GOP Salem headquarters on Sept. 17, 2014 in Salem, N.H. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty)
Scott Brown works the phone banks at the New Hampshire GOP Salem headquarters on Sept. 17, 2014 in Salem, N.H.
Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), running in New Hampshire after losing in Massachusetts two years ago, has decided the national security is an issue that he can exploit. He may be losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (R-N.H.), but Brown thinks public fears over Islamic State militants have created an opportunity.
In his latest television ad, the Republican argues that radical Islamic terrorists are "threatening to cause the collapse of our country" -- a claim that seems a little hyperbolic given reality -- adding that Shaheen and President Obama "seem confused about the nature of the threat. Not me."
Right. Because if there's one politician who never "seems confused," it's Scott Brown.
With this in mind, the former senator delivered a "major foreign policy speech" in his adopted home state last week, billed by his aides as an address in which Brown would present his vision of international affairs. We'll get to the content of the speech in a moment, but what I found especially interesting was what happened immediately after Brown's remarks. The Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh reported:

As it happens, there's an important issue at hand that provides a decent clue on that front: Does he think, as per the US Constitution, that President Obama should have to come to Congress for authorization for the multi-year military effort he wants against the Islamic State? After all, a senator can't exercise much independent judgment if he concedes war-waging authority to the president without either a debate or a vote. As Brown exited the hall, I posed that question to him. He ignored me.

Lehigh asked aides to the former senator if Brown would be speaking with reporters about his "major foreign policy speech." They replied, "No." Did they know Brown's position on congressional authorization? They did not. Could they find out? The Republican's press secretary told Lehigh she'd look into it, but as best as I can tell, Team Brown hasn't yet answered the question.
For her part, Jeanne Shaheen, the incumbent, isn't afraid to have an opinion on this and told Lehigh, "I think Congress should debate an authorization for use of military force. I have called on the president to do that, and I've said if he doesn't, we should do it without him."
Remember, Brown is the one who wants to leverage ISIS as a campaign tool. He wants to talk about how "confused" Democrats are about national security, but when asked to talk about the most basic of aspects of the debate -- should Congress authorize military intervention? -- Brown seems to have literally nothing to say.
The point, of course, is not to pick on Brown, whose discomfort with policy questions is regrettably common, but to use the example of the former senator to underscore a broader problem. There are all kinds of Republicans who suddenly see counter-terrorism as a campaign issue, but how many of them are prepared to actually do real work? Or for those who aren't currently in office, how many are pushing for Congress to return to debate the use of military force abroad?
As for Brown's big speech, Simon Maloy noted that the Republicans foreign policy vision "combines lame right-wing talking points with old fashioned fear-mongering."

Scott Brown favors being "clear and resolute," and he disfavors "confusion, indecision, and incoherence." It's a vacuous and rote vision of leadership that easily impressed right-wing pundits are calling “smart.” Brown's speech featured no shortage of attacks on the president's foreign policy -- "maxed out, worn down, devoid of ideas" -- but didn't address the actual armed conflict the U.S. is fighting at this very moment. He observed that ISIS is "exterminating innocent people including mothers and children, murdering Americans on camera, and declaring a caliphate that is drawing even more jihadists to the scene each and every day," but couldn't spare a line or two in his big foreign policy speech to address the actions the U.S. government took in response.

Is it any wonder Brown didn't make himself available to reporters after his "major" speech?