Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Bachmann Effect?

So, it looks as if Michele Bachmann is going to be a presidential candidate in 2012. Of a sort. She's certainly not running for president in the sense of potentially winning that office (although it's always possible she might believe she can win). She is not, of course, a plausible nominee, much less a plausible winner in November 2012. Members of the House don't get nominated; Members of the House with a history of saying nutty things don't come close to being nominated.

That doesn't mean, of course, that she will have no effect on the contest. Some possible scenarios and consequences:

1. She'll get a fair amount of attention -- as Dave Weigel correctly notes, at the very least a Bachmann candidacy is very good news for the Daily Show and the cable networks.

2. Still, the most likely result is that she'll be like Alan Keyes, B-1 Bob Dornan, and Gary Bauer...capable of making some noise, but eventually garnering well under 10% in early states and promptly disappearing. Remember that the noise a candidate generates is not necessarily related at all to actual votes -- or else Ron Paul would have been a far more serious distraction in 2008 than he was.

3. Also remember: all presidential nomination fields are narrowed, and many contests are decided, before voters get involved beginning in Iowa. Fringe candidates have essentially no effect on that process.

4. If, however, several candidates are plausible nominees but no one has wrapped it up...yes, it's possible that Bachmann could mess with things a bit. Ed Kilgore makes a case that she'll do relatively well, and perhaps if the cards fall just right even win, in Iowa. As I said, I think a sub-10% ceiling is more likely, but it's not implausible that Bachmann could join Pat Robertson as a non-serious candidate who does seriously well in Iowa.

5. If (and note that we're now two deep in "ifs") Bachmann does do well in Iowa, the main effect to watch for is that it pushes someone else out of the top tier there. Kilgore (and Steve Benen) think Tim Pawlenty is likely to suffer...I think there's more uncertainty to that part of it than to any other portion of this speculative chain. I would only say that in an open contest, it would be a severe blow to any candidate to finished out of the top three in Iowa (or in New Hampshire).

6. Also: the debates! Kevin Drum has an excellent item about it. Remember, both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich are basically capable of saying anything at all during a debate, and they will be somewhat harder to just ignore than Alan Keyes was. On top of that you probably have either Ron Paul or Rand Paul, who are slightly more predictable but similarly off-the-wall and disruptive. And Drum missed Gary Johnson, who isn't quite a wacky as Ron or Rand Paul, but still figures to add to the general chaos. Obviously, if the Sage of Wasilla is there, well, there's that, too. Most of what you'll read (not Drum, who gets it right) about the effects of such debates (either on the dynamics of the nomination contest or especially on the effects for November 2012) will be massively overblown, but it sure will be fun if they're all in, and it'll be something of a  pain in the ass for the serious candidates.


  1. Given what she indicates she "thinks" in public, I wouldn't be surprised if she actually thinks she can win.

    Other than "severe" (server?), right on the money. I think that if Bachmann sucks up the crazy vote, she ends up hurting, well, Palin (but Palin will win that contest every time), Gingrich, other folks that have no chance due to either being insane or non-starters in the GOP (Bolton, Cain, DeMint, Johnson, Paul, Trump, and Santorum all come to mind, but there's many more). But, that's a HUGE if. I'd actually wager on many in that group to beat HER, so the "if" is just wacky.

  2. I think there may be something to Kilgore's and Benen's point that she could cause problems for Pawlenty, her fellow Minnesotan, in neighboring Iowa.

  3. Severe fixed. Thanks.

    The same-state thing is presumably more of an issue in terms of fundraising -- and I assume that Bachmann's fundraising is national, not local, based. Generally, Bachmann functions as a national candidate, not regional; it's not as if people know her because media markets overlap, as is the case with Romney, Kerry, Kennedy, Tsongas, and NH.

  4. I think that Ron Paul is a better analogy for Bachmann than Alan Keyes. She has a built in base the way Paul does, and she alienates everyone else, like Paul does. Keyes base essentially did not realize they were his base.

    I don't know enough about Dornan, but Bauer is almost a good analogy except that although Bauer's base recognized him in a way that Keyes's didn't, Bachmann knows how to get attention in a way Bauer never could. Maybe being an attractive woman rather than a mousey man makes all the difference.

    Other than disagreeing about who she most resembles as a candidate, I definitely agree about her maximum potential. She caps out at around 10% as you said where Keyes is a 1% to 3% kind of guy and Bauer is a 5% to 7% guy. She could aspire to Paul like 15% to 20% numbers if she spent the time building a base the way he has. It may be that this is her first attempt to transform herself into a more Paul like figure. Does she have any kids named after Ayn Rand? Maybe one of them will be in the Senate in twenty years.

  5. I'm stickin to the analogy I've been making - well before MB's lastest confirmation of serious consideration - she is the Ralph Nader of the right.
    I think she firmly believes she has G_d on her side - read her bio - and she'll only get out when the $ dries up...if it dries up.

  6. It's pretty common for a primary to have one or two "wacky" candidates, and they don't influence elections that much. But I have to figure that once you start getting five or six "wacky" candidates, the aggregate effect might start to be meaningful.

    (Of course, not everyone who announces their intentions to consider running for President actually makes it until Iowa.)

  7. Slightly off topic, but I would appreciate your perspective on whether GOP mainstays are really aware of how off the rails and thousand yard stare crazy certain vocal segments of their party have become?

    I don't really mean that as a flame.

    I'm interested to know whether you think there is any discussion going on in the Republican machine as to how unworkable their budgets are, how bankrupt their plans to repeal and replace PPACA are, etc.--many topics that have been explored in detail by writers like you and other members of the political punditocracy.

    It looked like Paul Ryan was flexing his muscles in that direction briefly, poking the soft underbelly of how unworkable his own party's party line solutions appear to be. One would hope others in the party would be at least remotely aware that in terms of a party fit to actually govern, they've gone off the rails.

  8. I don't know what you mean primaries are winnowed or decided before Iowa. By who? Sure, the superdelegates made Hillary inevitable to the point where it would take a phenom like Obama to derail it, and the GOP establishment all rallied behind Bush before McCain nearly derailed it. But who would winnow out Bachmann exactly? You don't feel the Tea Party faction in nominating people like Rand Paul, Joe Miller and Christine O'Donnell in 2010 proved their muscle. And if Palin and Huckabee should be out, they're pretty likely to rally to Bachmann in ways that make her way more of a player than former extremists. You're also wrongly using history to rule out House members. It seems obvious to me that if Pence had run, he'd be in Pawlenty's position now: frontrunner to be the alt to Romney. Bachmann isn't taken as seriously by as many people but those that are a depressingly big group and way more motivated than any candidate save Palin or Paul's supporters.- mr. X

  9. Anonymous@6:30:
    Liddy Dole and Dan Quayle dropped out in 2000 before anyone cast a vote. Sam Brownback was chased out by bad results in the Ames straw poll in 2008. Mark Warner dropped out in 2006 after his phone calls kept revealing to him that big donors were thinking Hillary, Obama or Edwards before him. People who haven't as formally declared have also dropped out...a lot of those who are mentioned as "possible candidates" 2 years out are ACTUAL candidates who end up dropping the effort once the polling and fundraising and advice come back negative.

    The field you get to vote for on primary/caucus day in IA/NH is not the list of every candidate who tried to run for president this cycle.

  10. In addition to what Matt said (which I agree with),

    Even those who make it to Iowa don't stand at an even starting line by that point. Endorsements, fundraising, connections...all of those things affect who wins in Iowa and NH -- and how vulnerable a candidate is to a mild setback.

    Generally, we really like to think of elections as if they were sporting events in which all enter with an even chance, but they really aren't like that.

  11. jb and Jarvis- gotchya but Liddy Dole as wife of Bob and Quayle as last VP needed establishment support that all went to W, who had much stronger aura of inevitability than anyone will this time. Nor will Bachmann be met with as tepid support as Brownback. Maybe we disagree on influence of Tea Party? Evangelicals are majority of Iowa GOP- seen in the Robertson success and Huckabee win. Many will be highly motivated to turn out for her if Palin and Huckabee pass, though Pawlenty could win many as well. Steve King will endorse her. Who knows what Palin will do? Bachmann's favorables are remarkably high with GOP, even with only 50% knowing her. Depressing statement about the party. Agree that things start uneven but in the new GOP she is one of those with a headstart imo. Unless Palin runs, Bachmann is no Gary Bauer. I say she's somewhere between Huckabee 08 and Jerry Brown 92. -x


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