Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, an embattled Republican who has already decried his party’s platform, on Wednesday struggled to answer repeated questions about whether he still backs Mitt Romney for president.
And he never stuck up for Romney, although his office later said he was "absolutely" on the Republican team.
Confused? That's the point.
Brown wants it both ways. He wants Massachusetts moderates and liberals to think he's dubious about Romney. He wants conservatives to think he's a Mitt man.
Hence Wednesday's mixed signals.
A day after he pointedly distanced himself from Romney’s crude claim that 47 percent of Americans are “dependent” voters who will not back the GOP’s national ticket, Brown was pursued by reporters in Washington with questions about whether he’s still backing the former Massachusetts governor.
“I made it very, very clear where I stand on these issues,” Brown responded, without actually responding, to the questions.
When a reporter for the newspaper The Hill pressed Brown on the issue, the senator, who has positioned himself as a more moderate player than most in his party, said, “Listen, you’re going to have to speak to Governor Romney about what his plans are. I’m doing what I’ve been doing.”
The reporter asked again if Brown was still a Romney-Ryan man, Brown danced around the direct question.
“He’s working hard to get his message out,” Brown said of Romney. “I don’t agree with him on everything but that’s what being an independent senator is about: criticizing my party when it’s appropriate and then praising people when they have an opportunity to do something well.”
The senator then darted into a Capitol elevator.
Later in the day, Brown's office said the senator "absolutely supports Romney, there's no doubt about that.”
But the senator, given repeated opportunities to remove all doubt, opted to keep it vague.
And it is a safe bet that this dance will continue.
Wednesday's bizarre round of questioning and non-answering highlights the difficult position in which Brown finds himself. Brown came up politically as a Romney ally, serving as a GOP state representative and state senator when Romney was the governor of Massachusetts. The two men know each other and have backed one another in past races.
But Brown is seeking re-election this fall in a state that will vote for Obama, undoubtedly by an overwhelming margin. Brown is trailing his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, in recent polling.
It is a safe bet that Brown does not want to be quoted as saying at this point in his difficult re-election race that he backs the increasingly embattled Romney. By the same token, if Brown says he does not back Romney, he’ll offend Massachusetts conservatives, whose votes he must have as part of a broader base for November.
Brown would, undoubtedly, prefer to keep things vague. But he should not be allowed to play that political game.
The supposedly “moderate” senator has a responsibility to offer specific answers about his stance regarding a Republican ticket that can no longer be described, in any sense, as moderate.
The senator says he does not share Mitt Romney’s “world view.” He has repeatedly criticized Romney’s platform (especially on issues such as reproductive rights and LGBT rights) and the party’s increasingly right-wing national campaign. Brown has gone out of his way to appeal to Democrats and independents who will vote for Obama; he has even featured images of the president in his campaign ads.
But does Scott Brown have the courage—and the conscience—to renounce Romney?
In the past, when Republicans have nominated extreme presidential candidates, party moderates have distanced themselves from those candidates. Famously, in 1964, top New York Republicans such as then-Congressman John Lindsay and Senator Kenneth Keating renounced Barry Goldwater’s candidacy. Both Lindsay and Keating explicitly said they were not supporting the national Republican ticket that year.
Lindsay was reelected to his Manhattan US House seat, but Keating lost his US Senate seat to Bobby Kennedy.
Other moderate Republicans refused to back Goldwater that year. One of them was the governor of Michigan: George Romney.
The question now is whether Scott Brown really is a genuine moderate who will refuse to go to extremes with his party’s nominee. Is he a George Romney Republican? Or is Brown a Mitt Romney Republican?
Check out Ben Adler’s take on the GOP’s flailing attempts to move past Romney’s remarks.