I can only think of two reasonable theories to explain why US Senator Scott Brown, Jim Barnett (campaign manager), Eric Fehrnstrom (campaign strategist), Brad Garrett (Republican Party staffer), Greg Casey & Jack Richard (Brown staffers) have chosen to question Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry:  1) there’s something in their internal polling and focus group data that suggests this is a winning issue for Brown, or 2) they’re all racist a**holes.  For the sake of argument, let’s go with Door #1.

To review:  Early this summer, the Boston political media spent weeks digging into and speculating about the Brown campaign’s claims that Warren had lied about having Native American ancestors in order to get “preferential treatment” for hiring by law schools.  After chewing all the meat off that particular bone, it turned out that the voters of the Commonwealth…didn’t much care about Warren’s ancestors or about how she got hired—at least not enough to have it affect whether they’d vote for her.  The whole story had died down and disappeared by August (coincidentally, the month when scores of Massachusetts reporters and editors go on vacation “down the Cape”).

At the candidates’ first televised debate, Brown led off with, and kept as the centerpiece of his argument why Warren should not be the next senator from Massachusetts, that “Prof. Warren claimed that she was a Native American…and clearly she’s not.”  What’s not clear is why Scott Brown thinks he has been appointed judge and jury of Elizabeth Warren’s racial heritage.  It’s even less clear why he thinks it will help him get re-elected.

But clearly he does, as does his campaign staff.  Because after the debate, Brown’s new campaign ad, “Who Knows?”, was all about…Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry.

That was followed by Brown’s aides and campaign staff doing the “Tomahawk Chop” and “Indian war whoops” at a campaign event (as well as—inexplicably to all but a somewhat bizarre subset of Boston Red Sox fans—chanting “Yankees suck!”).

Remember, we’re operating on the assumption that Brown’s people have some reason for thinking this is not a good issue, but the best available issue for the incumbent senator to campaign on.

At this point, it’s worth recalling the exact words of legendary Republican political consultant, Lee Atwater (and yes, Lee Atwater is a hero to and role model of Jim Barnett’s):  “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it.”

And in 2012, presumably, you try to make your opponent the poster child for affirmative action and “racial quotas”.

The problem for Brown is that he’s got a political reputation as a “nice guy”—the kind of “nice guy” Republican that Massachusetts Democrats can safely vote for without feeling like they’re voting for not-nice-guys like Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or Mitch McConnell.  “Nice guys” don’t make nakedly racist attacks…especially when the person they’re attacking is a woman.

By making that attack, Brown exposed himself to this kind of counterattack:


Warren gets to use a great tagline, “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours” that’s utterly consistent with her overall campaign strategy.

She also gets to tell her parents’ story:  “But I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part-Cherokee and part-Delaware, so my parents had to elope.

Now every undecided voter in Massachusetts who ever married, or even just dated someone their parents disapproved of—because he was African-American, or she was Chinese, or Catholic, or Jewish, or Irish, or Portuguese, or from the wrong side of town, or any other damn fool reason—has a really good reason to vote for Warren and against Brown.  So does everyone in Massachusetts who has a friend or relative who’s had to deal with the kind of arrogant, intolerant and disgusting attitude (and behavior) that Brown and his campaign have put front and center for the past week.

This is still a close race.  Warren is still a political rookie running against a skilled campaigner (and “nice guy”).  But given how the demographics of Massachusetts have changed since Scott Brown was in high school, we may look back on this as the week that Brown lost the election.

Crossposted at: https:/masscommons.wordpress.com

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