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What Is Brownback Up To?


Probably the most interesting surge-related development on the right comes courtesy of Sam Brownback. Brownback, you'll recall, is the evangelical-cum-Catholic angling to become the conservative alternative to John McCain. Up until the last few months, he was a pretty reliable supporter of the war in Iraq. But he's since concluded that the war has taken a disastrous turn, and he's become more and more willing to call the administration on it. This all culminated with this week's statement that, "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer. ... Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."

So what is Brownback up to? On one level it's pretty obvious. John McCain and, to varying degrees, the rest of the GOP field have cast their lot with Bush and the surge. There's nothing for a longshot like Brownback to gain by falling in line behind them, and plenty to gain by distinguishing himself on the issue. That's particularly true given the exceedingly likely possibility that the surge will fail, at which point Brownback will look somewhere between sober and prophetic.

More interestingly, the move turns out to be pretty welcome among Brownback's desired base of social conservatives. While 52 percent of Republicans support the surge according to a just-released AP/Ipsos poll, some 60 percent of white evangelicals oppose it, as do 56 percent of self-described conservatives. So we're actually talking about a twofer here: shore up your base while positioning yourself to poach votes from the other guys. (Actually, a three-fer, since this has the added merit of being the substantively sane position.) Not bad for a day's work.

--Noam Scheiber

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