Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Parties, Nominations, and Bachmann

That excellent Hans Noel interview about the nomination process (and yes, you should read it), gives me an excuse to explain again why I don't believe that Michele Bachmann is a plausible nominee.

Hans talks a little about Bachmann as a Tea Party factional candidate, and why that might be a limiting factor, and I agree. But I'd flag something more general he said -- that a big part of the process for party actors is finding "someone they can trust." That's right. As I've said, for party actors, presidential nominations are terribly important, in large part because the candidate they select might well win and become president -- and after that, it's actually very difficult to control that person. Look at liberal Democrats who are disappointed with Barack Obama now, or conservatives disappointed with George W. Bush in 2004. Realistically, they have little choice but to support their president as enthusiastically as they can up through re-election; anything less, and they risk the disastrous result of handing the election to the other party.

So how do you know if you can trust someone? Well, you look at their track record (that is, you talk to people who have worked with them and know what they are actually like in office), and see what they've done over time. Sometimes, as with Mitt Romney (or John McCain in 2008), the problem is that they've changed positions over time -- which Mitt Romney would emerge if he was elected? But in other cases, the problem is that they have little or no track record. That's the problem with Bachmann, and with Members of the House in general. Bachmann hasn't been in a position to negotiate anything, or to be a leader on anything within Congress, or in any other way revealed very much about herself as a potential president at all. She's good at self-promotion (but virtually all presidential candidates are), and she's good at showing up on the cable nets and giving outrageous statements. Is that any reason to trust her as president? Or, as Jonathan Chait, who generally has thought Bachmann has a good chance, puts it: perhaps there's a "quiet sense among Republican insiders that Bachmann is crazy."

Of course, trust isn't the only question. If only one candidate agrees with you on the issue that matters most, then you're certainly likely to support that candidate, even if you're not absolutely certain that she would actually stick with you if elected. But as I've said, Bachmann doesn't really have that going for her, at least against most of the candidates on most issues. Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney are all doing their best to keep any space from opening up to their right on most issues. So for most party actors, electability and trust are going to be the important criteria, and it's hard to see Bachmann doing well on that.

Unless, that is, the party really has been overrun by people who sincerely believe that Michele Bachmann would be the strongest general election candidate, and that saying crazy things on cable nets is a better marker of a candidate's true positions than building a track record of long-term support for party interests and issues through the governing process and previous campaigns.


  1. Juan Williams wrote:
    "Whenever the press spotlights one of her stumbles at the microphone the Minnesota congresswoman gets a flood of support and money. She becomes ‘Every Woman,’ a misunderstood Tea Party mother of five facing down an elitist, arrogant, Obama-leaning press corps."

    A poll conducted by the independent EP Network between June 24th and 28th of likely national Republican voters found 31% favoring Bachmann, while 24% favored her closest rival Mitt Romney.

  2. I think your point, JB, is both right and wrong. Right because Bachmann is a factional candidate unlikely to be trusted by many,and thus unlikely to win. But wrong because that faction, the Tea Party, is not looking for clues on whom to trust among legislative battles. Bachmann has the personal history they want. Oral Roberts law degree, 28 foster children, long history in fundamentalist christian circles. If I were a true believer, I would trust her not to sell me out because its clear she is a true believer. Her blood is 98% kool-aid.


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