Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More on Bachmann

I recommend to everyone interested in learning more about Michele Bachmann a helpful profile from Michelle Goldberg. The main takeaway is that some of Bachmann's statements that may appear to be wacko are, in context, a reflection of her Christian conservative world view, not any personal, idiosyncratic craziness. I'm not sure whether or not I agree with that implication (which, I should say, isn't stated explicitly in the article) in full, but I do think it's a very useful corrective.

Jonathan Chait, a Bachmann optimist (that is, he thinks she's a very viable candidate), notes that "many" Bachmann pessimists underestimate her based on a misunderstanding of the current GOP:
The skepticism about Bachmann's prospects reflects an antiquated assumption that there's a natural ceiling within the GOP on the support base of a hard-core religious conservative. Yet both the movement and the party have changed in ways that make that less and less true.
I agree with that part of that; I disagreed with those who didn't take the Huck seriously on similar grounds. Very solid support from Christian conservatives is a strong plus, not a ceiling, in the Republican Party. Christian conservatives are mainstream movement conservatives, not weird freaks.

And yet even within that, Bachmann isn't just a run-of-the-mill conservative, either in actions or in reputation. That's too some extent reflected in her voting in the House (she ranked 407th on a liberal-to-conservative scale of Members of the House in the 111th Congress, and 409th in the 110th Congress). It's also reflected in her back-catalog of Greatest Hits crazy-sounding statements. Even if what she's said makes perfect sense to many rank-and-file primary voters, that's not apt to help her should she be nominated -- and therefore, those Republicans who want a strong November candidate are apt to strongly oppose her.

My own Bachmann pessimism is based on both the electoral self-interest of those Republicans who want to win, and on the general structural disadvantages of running from the House. Well, those things, and also that in my view, in the current Republican Party, movement conservatives don't have to go to a candidate perceived as an extremist to find someone who supports them on at least most of their issues.

That latter point is pretty important. In 1964, the difference for conservatives between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller was enormous (and the difference between Rockefeller and Lyndon Johnson not all that great); under those circumstances, accepting a smaller chance of victory in November in exchange for ideological purity was a reasonable bargain. In 2012, the difference between Bachmann and, say, Mitt Romney is small -- and the difference between Romney and Barack Obama is large. If they are convinced that Bachmann would be a poor candidate in the fall, even very conservative Republicans may choose Romney (or, even more likely, Tim Pawlenty or Rick Perry).


  1. Exactly right.
    Why buy Michelle Bachmann's crazy (with the baggage of ludicrous sound bites), when all the other candidates are selling the same policies, but labeled as "conservative?"

    BTW, my word verification is absolutely perfect for a post on Bachmann: feces

  2. You keep saying "Rick Perry" but I am not sure I am buying what you are selling. How is he less extremist than Bachmann (outside of being a white guy with good hair and a well-pressed suit, and therefore a priori serious in the media's eyes?)

    Once the amateurs have cleared the floor, doesn't Perry face the same problem as Bachmann,
    that he has a long record of saying things way, way out of step with mainstream Republicanism?

  3. Bachman’s nomination would be a disaster for the GOP. “Serious” people may laugh at him, but Ron Paul polls significantly better than Bachman, and most other Republicans, with the general electorate. Gary Johnson polls better than every other Republican candidate in home-state approval ratings. The country seems more prepared to accept a libertarian-leaning Republican than one of these tea party-branded Conservatives.

  4. Yes, but Republicans aren't ready to accept a libertarian-leaning Republican. They are willing IMO to take someone with more-or-less Bachmann's issue positions -- but not one with her reputation, most likely. Which is why I think Perry is viable, but she isn't.

    (The other part being that TX governors get nominations, while MCs don't).

  5. Anonymous: In what universe is boderline-but-plausibly-deniable secessionism out of the Republican mainstream? After all, it's only an expression of outrage at policies enacted by the Federal government controlled by the opposition party. Thus his particular outbursts, while they appear to us to be nutty, your mainstream Republican understands to be anger at Obama.

  6. >In 2012, the difference between Bachmann and, say, Mitt Romney is small -- and the difference between Romney and Barack Obama is large.

    I think that's an important point, and I'm not sure I buy it. While I do agree that in reality, the distance between Romney and Bachmann is much smaller than the distance between Romney and Obama, that's not how most Republican voters perceive things, and it may not even be how Republican elites perceive things. Certainly, the Fox line is to view Romney in sort of the Rockefeller role, and Bachmann (as well as Palin and Cain) in the Goldwater role, with Obama filling the LBJ role.

  7. Jonathan,

    I think the right libertarian would have a shot, but that person probably isn’t the two who are running in 2012. Rand is a far more polished politician and he also seems to be more acceptable to mainstream conservatives, so I could see him making a real run for it eventually. But part of the problem is that there just aren’t many libertarian Republican officeholders -- there’s no farm team. So for that reason alone, the libertarians’ prospects are more long term. But this may begin to change -- the strong support that Ron Paul received in 2008 could encourage more libertarians to see politics as a career that holds a future for them.

  8. I'm not really sure how men in the GOP primary can run against Bachmann. If the come out bull-dog attack mode, it will it seems it will only inflame and motivate her backers. If they keep quiet, then they have to hope she falters with a series of McCarthyisms, and I'm not sure that's something they'll feel confident relying on. I'm pretty certain there's an army of dirt-diggers digging on their behalf, to hold the tear-down at arms length.

    The model for her campaign seems rooted in Palin's VP run; but Palin didn't have to go through a primary. The path to running a slugfest against a Mamma Grizzly doesn't seem clear to me.


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