It wasn't just that Scott Brown announced he was not running in the special US Senate election — it was that it quickly became evident that he was not handing the job off to another Republican. There would be no heir apparent; the field would not be cleared for anyone. In fact, less than 24 hours after Brown (barely) installed his ally Kirsten Hughes as chairman of the state party, there was a very real possibility that the Massachusetts GOP might be forced to a write-in primary campaign to get any candidate at all onto the final ballot.
The sad state of affairs should not have caught anyone as that much of a surprise. As I wrote two months ago: "The defeatism within the [MassGOP] suggests that top-flight candidates might be hard to recruit. If so, the Democrats' stranglehold on the state will only tighten. And we will look back at 2012 as the year the MassGOP surrendered."
If Brown, with high favorability across the state, had no realistic hope of reversing his November eight-point loss, then the campaign was surely a fool's errand for Charlie Baker, Bill Weld, Kerry Healey, Richard Tisei, Andrew Card, Lew Evangelides, or any other interested high-level Republican.
A lesser candidate could have been elevated in stature, if Brown and others rallied around one. But they were rallying around nobody. The only Republicans willing to consider running have little love among the party establishment. As of this writing, that list of possibilities includes State Representative Dan Winslow, State Senator Bruce Tarr, Governor's Councilor Jen Caissie, former Ashland selectman Jon Fetherston, and investment manager Gabriel Gomez.
Rather than the field being cleared, that list kept getting longer. Rather than any of them gaining gravitas, it began to look like a big fight in a very small pond.
And things could look even worse soon.
For any of them to get onto the Republican primary ballot, they will need to gather 10,000 valid signatures by the end of February. That's a very difficult challenge for any candidate, let alone one without a large political organization at the ready.
And the massive snowstorm over the weekend didn't help.
Some state Republicans are genuinely concerned that none of the wannabes will qualify, leading to the embarrassing spectacle of a blank GOP primary ballot, and competing write-in campaigns for the privilege of getting crushed in the general election.
QUICK, BROWN TO FOX
The bad news didn't stop there. By last week, word was out that Brown had taken a position on a corporate board, and was also negotiating a contributor contract with FOX News.
Neither are actions one takes just before entering a Massachusetts gubernatorial race.
The clear message is that Brown is not planning to run for office in the Bay State anytime soon. And, he's looking to cash in rather than party-build.
It's hard to blame him. But Brown turning into a right-wing commentator is not going to help reposition the GOP brand in Massachusetts.
It also suggests a deep level of discouragement. Many had thought that Brown would skip the Senate campaign in favor of the 2014 governor's race, where he could run relatively free from the brutal unpopularity of the national GOP. If he's skipping that too, then maybe so will Baker, and others. And other races, including a potential open state treasurer's seat, could be equally tough to find candidates for.