Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bachmann's Fine Line

Ed Kilgore has an excellent piece over at TNR about the challenges Michele Bachmann faces as she tries to move from gadfly to actual presidential contender. As he points out, she's going to be pressured, both by the press and by rival candidates. Click through and read the whole thing for his analysis, which I think is quite good.

To add to it, however, I'd say that Bachmann's sweet spot is, it seems to me, exceedingly small. If she gives conventional answers to tough questions, she runs the risk of being Just Another Conservative, albeit one with a back-history of oddball statements and positions. In other words, by doing what she can to reassure the people in the party who care about winning in November, she risks her ability to stand out from the Cain-Santorum part of the field.

Another way to look at it: there just isn't much actual policy space to the right of Romney, Pawlenty, and (presumably) Perry for Bachmann to occupy by herself, even if she could monopolize that space -- at least, not much space that won't get her labeled a nut. That leaves attitude, not policy positions, but the sorts of things that signal that she's a true believer are problematic for plenty of people.

And yet if she doesn't do that...well, we're a long ways from Iowa, still. Six months of campaigning as a regular mainstream conservative, and it wouldn't be surprising if a lot of rank-and-file voters see her as one, and look to Cain or one of the others (Roy Moore!) for a real insurgent candidacy.

Which gets back to Kilgore's point: she's going to be tested, and she's going to have to be an awfully good politician to get through it and wind up as viable as many (but, still, not me) currently believe she is.


  1. Rick Perry seems to be the greatest threat to Bachmann, since he can present himself as a true-believing conservative (to a much greater degree than Romney or Pawlenty can), but has far more conventional credentials for a presidential run. He has good evangelical credentials, too. Perry also seems like a more plausible general-election candidate than Bachmann does. Republican elites, presumably, would flip at the possibility of Bachmann as a nominee; I don't think most have that reaction to Perry.

    I suspect Perry could push T-Paw out of the race. If Perry raises more money than Pawlenty, and is more clearly conservative than Pawlenty, and lines up more elite support than Pawlenty, how is Pawlenty an plausible alternative to Romney? And Pawlenty doesn't seem the sort to run a second-tier campaign with no hope of victory.

  2. I agree with most of that...with the caveat that we'll have to see exactly how Perry does once he gets in. Which means that Pawlenty wouldn't be running a "no hope for victory" campaign, at least for some time still.

    Pawlenty has I believe a fair number of middle-tier endorsements, and we'll see how his $$ numbers turn out, and then how Ames goes for him. It wouldn't shock me if Perry knocks him out by September...but it also wouldn't shock me if Pawlenty surges and wins.

  3. I tend to agree that Perry makes it much for difficult for Bachmann and Pawlenty.

    The thing that is missing in the biography. The foster children scream authenticity to the evangelical crowd in a way that no votes, no bills signed, ever can do. She shares the values of the evangelical wing, and that is the single most valuable asset she can have with her base. This gives her much more wiggle room with her base of support than any other candidate.

    I continue to believe she is the most likely alternative to Romney. But I could, of course, be entirely wrong.

  4. Little fruitbat that she is, I still think Bachmann is much more likely to resonate with the base than Pawlenty, and if I were going to pick which of those two would still be a viable candidate six months from now, I'd put my money on Bachman, barring an entry from Perry. If he gets in, she and the rest of the ultra-righties are in big trouble. But I think Pawlenty's in bigger trouble--he's a non-entity policy-wise, and he looks like the kid everybody beats up in the locker room.

  5. The question of whether Bachmann would stand up to scrutiny reminded me of the Democratic primary debates in 2008, specifically the exchanges between BHO and HRC outlining their different views on health care reform.

    I'm sure there are many in this audience who can explain well the difference between their positions; I'm also sure that Joe Average Voter had no idea. Actually, I couldn't really follow it myself. But in the midst of that tedious wonkery, Obama came across as pretty compelling, which was around the beginning of my life as an Obamacon.

    I think there's a road to the Republican nomination for Bachmann by 'looking the part'. Not easy, and she'd need help from Romney/Pawlenty/Perry imploding or destroying each other, but that seems possible. If I were counseling Bachmann, I'd recommend she show up looking the part as much as possible and speak as little as possible. Could work.

  6. Given the make up of the Republican primary electorate Bachmann could easily win in my opinion without Palin in the race. The less nutty and more mainstream votes will be split among the field making her win possible. If 35 - 40% of the Republican electorate still view Palin as a credible candidate why wouldn't Bachmann be a threat to win the nomination. She's a nut but one has to get into the weeds of her beliefs and positions to know that. She comes across as reasonable on the surface.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?