No, Republicans will not come to regret Senator Scott Brown because he is not conservative. He is still a Republican, he will still tend to vote with Republicans on most issues, and most importantly, his presence as a 41st Republican in the Senate will break the Democrats of their arrogant presumption that they can simply do what they like, when they like.
That is why Republicans will eventually come to realize that there is a downside to his surprising show of strength in Massachusetts. What is happening in the Bay State now will graphically demonstrate to Democrats as a whole, and individual Democrats, that they cannot coast to victory everywhere and in all places, that they cannot leave their campaigning skills at home simply because they can associate themselves with Barack Obama and the governing majority, that they cannot run a successful campaign in 2010 against George Bush.
That's the big deal. The theme for 2010 was going to be "Blame Bush." Why Democrats would think that two years after Bush was forced out of office and not even an option anymore, why they would think that two years in to the term, they could say thing like, "Huh, what an awful economy! We in-hair-it-ed it!" and get a good response from the electorate, why they would not think people might notice when they spout nonsense like "A Republican created this bad economy and now we have to take the blame!" is beyond me. Much less the basic incompatibility of running against an out-of-office Republican while their own President says things like "There are always folks who think that the best way to solve these problems are to demonize others and, unfortunately, we're seeing some of that politics in Massachusetts today," and then they can turn around and demonize George Bush instead of offering actual solutions to the problems and reaping the electoral rewards for doing so.
No, at a certain point, the Democrats bought it, and now it's theirs. All theirs. And (surprise!) they haven't solved all the problems, they haven't turned the economy around -- or at least, it doesn't feel like they have. Real estate prices still feel depressed, unemployment is still high, retail activity is still sluggish, credit is still tight, gasoline is still expensive. The only sign of a Carter-era economy we're missing is inflation and that might start to creep up on us too. (Don't say you weren't warned about this.) And therefore, the strategies and themes that worked well for them in 2008 aren't going to work well now. They need to think of new things to say. Ultimately, they need to find some good news to tell because when you're an incumbent you need to tell the voters good news. Yes, it's easier to tell the voters bad news, play to their fears, and use the sexy word "change" but those are tactics that work best for insurgents and not incumbents. Democrats need to act like they are the status quo now, because that's what they are.
What's more, the presence of 41 Republicans in the Senate, as I noted yesterday, will require the Democrats who still have a significant majority in the Senate to sit down and bargain with the Republicans. The majority party will have to listen to and at least make a small concession to the policy concerns of the minority party. The majority's desired policies will have to be diluted in order to move out of Congress. Regardless of which party is in power and which party is in the minority, that's presumptively a good thing. And it also means that it creates ambiguous policies, ones which will contain elements that can be assigned to the minority Republicans, and create credible arguments in the next election for why the policies have not brought about Elysium on Earth which, after all, is what the voters were promised instead of the drudging, grim, and decidedly un-fun reality they have to deal with daily.
So it now appears at least as likely as not that the seat that has been held by Teddy Kennedy for as long as I have had memory will be taken by a (moderate) Republican. And the result of that is that the beatback Democrats had coming for them in November of this year is previewed. Smart Democrats will react to this by changing up their game. If Republicans want to be smart, they don't need to change their game so much; they're out of power so they can do all the usual insurgency tactics. The Democrats, however, are getting a bellwether that what they're bringing to the game now isn't going to be good enough and they just might think of a way to better preserve their majority status.