FIRST: for someone of my age and irritability, it's always instructive to be reminded--as seldom as possible--that the regular WaPo line-up of rightist hacks, shills, cranks, and monarchists isn't sufficient to overcome the Librul bias of The Media, and so Jennifer Rubin needs a blog. Or maybe it's just that people found Kathleen Parker too highbrow.
And I may be apologizing for this between now and the Republican National Convention, but this race just fascinates me. It's so bad I don't even miss Mitch Daniels.
Reader, in 1988 the Democratic field, minus Gary Hart, was commonly referred to as the Seven Dwarfs. It comprised Al Gore, Joe Biden, Michael Dukakis, Bruce Babbit, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, and Paul Simon: three Senators, a governor, a Representative, a former governor, and one of Dr. Martin Luther King's lieutenants.
The current Republican field consists of a Senator, a former Senator, two former governors, a Representative, a disgraced former Speaker of the House, and a pizza delivery guy. Maybe the Press is out of nicknames. Maybe they've fallen out of favor, what with George W. Bush off doing whatever th' fuck he's doing. Maybe we're just waiting for someone really accomplished, like a half-term governor or two, to smarten the place up.
And, for me, the unintentional humor of Haley Barbour/Mitch Daniels, Great Rich White Hopes, has been eclipsed by Michele Bachman, Intelligent by Proclamation.
The New Hampshire debate, therefore, was a shock to many who had lumped her in with Sarah Palin or were unaware of her background as a lawyer, legislator and small-business woman. Gaining credibility in the eyes of the chattering class is an important step that will allow more serious coverage, consistent fundraising and expansion of her appeal beyond core Tea Partyers.
Y'know, "Bobby" Jindal answered the call when his party desperately needed an Ethnic to call its own, fumbled the toss, and is going to be living, Bayh-like, off his wife's oil company board memberships for the rest of his life. Michele Bachman, with yet untold millions in a campaign chest buying who knows how many image consultants dedicated to keeping her from looking like a sterno bum come to Jesus, manages to get through a single Republican "debate" without cackling something about Chinese electricity, One World Currency Proof Sets, or how slavery's been unfairly maligned, and she's suddenly declared Not Sarah Palin by people who never actually admitted Sarah Palin is a moron. Or not while they knew anyone could hear. And all I can say is, Jindal had it comin'.
She has at least four tasks ahead of her. First, as many of the candidates must do, she will need to convert her searing criticism of the president into a positive agenda of her own. In the debate she told us she was against the EPA, against raising the debt ceiling and against Obamacare. But what is she for, and will that agenda sound plausible? She will need to spell out what a Bachmann budget would look like and what she would propose in lieu of Obamacare.
Why are you picking on her? The last Republican candidate to spell out anything was George Herbert Walker Publius Bush, Sr., and it had something to do with taxes.
Second, she is up against candidates with executive experience ( Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney); she therefore would do well to highlight her own leadership and management experience. Perhaps that comes from her private-sector business. Maybe her role in helping to build the Tea Party could be used to demonstrate her organizational abilities. In short, why is the congresswoman ready to be president?
And here I thought the routine about Mitch Daniels, Entrepreneurial Hero was a knee-slapper.
Third, she’s going to have to pass muster as a plausible commander in chief. That, once again, means more than criticizing President Obama’s messy Libya policy or his submissiveness to Vladimir Putin. It requires that she show some seriousness about both the vision and the details of a foreign policy that conservatives can embrace. Is she going to toss around troop figures for Afghanistan like Huntsman did, or spell out a thoughtful policy? She’d do well to make some high-profile speeches and trips. In short, if you want to be at the grown-ups’ table in the race you must have the stature of a commander in chief.
I suppose a codpiece is out of the question.
And finally, she’d do well to show that she can unite the party, not simply shove out of the way all but core conservatives. Can she find a tone and message that will draw in Main Street conservatives, hawks, Tea Partyers, libertarians and the rest? She has shown she can fearlessly hammer the opposition, but can she woo the undecided?
Look, let's just say it: Bachmann's appeal is that she's clinically insane and functionally illiterate. The more she tries to hide it, the less she appeals to her natural constituency.
Bachmann isn't there on the hopes she's going to unite the Republican party. She's there as a placemat for the Teabaggers. Which is why "conservative" punditasters were so theatrically astonished at her accomplished performance last week. If she truly becomes a threat she'll be chopped down in a minute. She's there at the sufferance of a party well-versed in giving the rabble just enough to keep it coming back for more crumbs.
Her most significant challenge (and vice versa) will be Texas Gov. Rick Perry, should he choose to run. He’s got the conservative credentials plus the executive record. His fundraising prowess and appeal to both social conservatives and libertarians (who like his minimalist view of the federal government’s power and role) may be enough to deprive her of votes she will need to beat Romney.
A bag of hair. But really nice hair.
Bachmann may not be the front-runner, but of the current stable of contenders she may have the most plausible route to the nomination — provided Pawlenty doesn’t get his act together and Perry stays in Austin. That, I am certain, still shocks many in the punditocracy and the political establishment.
Assuming you still believe a) they know anything and b) they could remember how to tell the truth long enough to mention it. Bachmann's being set up as a Veep contender to keep the base in line. 2008 already demonstrated that, as certifiable as the entire party may be, outright hallucination accounts for only about a third. If you think Bachmann is being unfairly tarred with the Palin brush now, have her win Iowa, and maybe South Carolina, and see what the money boys in your own party have to say about her then.