A sincere, knowledgeable San Francisco Democrat (there are a few) recently asked me to explain Michelle Bachmann. My response was defensive and a bit snarky. This is what I should have said.
First, one needs to understand that there is a large swath from Idaho to Georgia where most people, particularly those outside of the large cities, without embarrassment or political calculation believe in God, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and American exceptionalism. Bachmann entered politics in tune with these convictions – the mother of five natural children and 23 foster children, concerned primarily about the local education system. She did some home schooling, helped start a struggling religiously-oriented charter school, and was defeated for the local school board, but attracted enough attention and support to get elected to the state senate and then to the House of Representatives from the moderate exurban swing district north of of the Twin Cities with solid majorities.
Bachmann, an international tax attorney with degrees from Winona State, Oral Roberts, and William & Mary Law School, spent three terms in Congress as a fiery speaker with no real accomplishments except founding the Tea Party Caucus and leading House fundraising with $13.5 million in 2010. But in 2011 she has hired a top-tier campaign manager, Ed Rollins (Reagan’s campaign manager in 1984; Huckabee’s in 2007), moderated her speech, and given a sterling performance in the June 13 New Hampshire debates, announcing her candidacy while everybody was looking at Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. When Pawlenty wimped out in not attacking “Obamneycare”, the door for an anti-Romney conservative swung wide open.
This is an inflection point in the Republican campaign. Mitt Romney has become the generally acknowledged front runner. With the falling away or non-candidacy of potential rivals for the large evangelical and Tea Party constituencies – Palin; Huckabee; Santorum; Cain and Pawlenty – there is an outside chance that Rick Perry may enter, but it looks as if Bachmann has burst out of the pack. Her candidacy checks the boxes for gender diversity, Blue State diversity, and party loyalty. (When the party failed to include her in the new House leadership in 2010, she saluted.)
Predictably, the media has made a faltering effort at the “Palinization” of an attractive pro-Life conservative who does not fit the required profile of NOW. George Stephanopoulos has warned her that her 23 foster children would be investigated for scandals; alert reporters have jumped on her error in claiming that John Wayne was from her home town of Waterloo, Iowa hen he really was born 150 miles away; even Fox’ Chris Wallace felt license to ask if she were a “flake”. Liberals have objected to subsidies received for a farm owned by her family; others have complained about her husband’s comments against gay marriage. Back from the Juneau Alaska e-mail chase, the media will ramp up their brilliant investigative reporting. Copy for hours of political attack is available with a couple of internet clicks. Most will be benign, if intemperate.
There are some legitimate big negatives: she has served only three terms in Congress, has no public or private sector executive experience, has very limited business experience, and has no foreign policy experience. In 2008 the Democrats had a candidate with a similar resume. Most Republicans and independents, not to mention the 24 million unemployed or underemployed, do not think that worked out too well.
An apparent ability to get the economy going and move toward balanced budgets will be the strong card for the Republicans in 2012. Those are Romney’s strengths, and more than anything the Republicans want a winner. Would Bachmann add much as vice-president on a Romney ticket? Would she do it? You betcha’.
This week’s video is Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party sponsored response to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech. At the time she received some criticism for upstaging Paul Ryan’s Republican response.