Michele Bachmann, Too Far to the Right

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, June 28, 2011


As none of the officially declared Republican presidential hopefuls seems strong enough to take on Barack Obama in 2012, Michele Bachmann’s official entry into the race has put the spotlight over this energetic Tea Party leader. Though a closer look at Bachmann shows how vulnerable she would be in a national election, her strengths make her attractive for the early part of the campaign when voters pay little attention to details and superficial attributes help attract media attention. In the next few months, Bachmann will likely stay atop the list of Republicans contenders. However, if she continues to lead the pack after primaries begin in February of 2012, Republicans will find it very difficult to secure thesupport of moderate voters.


Bachmann’s national political career began in 2006, when she was elected to the House of Representatives in a wealthy and overwhelmingly white district north of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Since then, she has championed Christian issues (like teaching “intelligent design” instead of evolution), anti-abortion stances and anti-gay rights positions. With the emergence of the Tea Party movement, Bachmann expanded her concerns to economic issues. She has championed the balanced-budget campaign, asking for spending cuts and threatening to vote against the upcoming vote on increasing the government’s debt ceiling. Though the Obama administration contends that such a vote would lower the rating for US government debt and ultimately increase debt yields and, consequently, the debt burden, conservative Republicans are using that required vote as a bargaining chip to extract more spending cuts concessions. Curiously, Bachmann has excluded defence and social security from the spending item subject to cuts. She has also favoured additional tax cuts, claiming that they would ultimately generate economic growth and thus the end tax-take would not vary.


In the 2010 midterm election campaign, Bachmann actively campaigned for Tea Party candidates who combined strong conservative Christian beliefs with small government positions. In July of 2010, Bachmann became a founding member of the Tea Party caucus. Though many congressional caucuses, like the Black or Hispanic, are not ideologically-driven, the Tea Party caucus is comprised of 60 House Members and 5 Senators, all of them Republican. When Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, Bachmann consolidated as a national leader. In 2010, after the official Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Bachmann delivered an unprecedented Tea Party Caucus response. Controversial and highly criticized for factual errors and unfounded claims, the response consolidated Bachmann as a possible presidential contender, with a television-ready image and a reassuring sense of self-confidence and mission (even a divinely mandated mission, as Bachmann seems to imply).


Bachmann’s rise to prominence within the Republican Party has inevitably obliged comparisons with Sarah Palin. In the words of Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, Michele Bachmann “is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be.” While Palin’s ignorance of issues has repeatedly embarrassed her and her political inexperience has cost her dearly, Bachmann is a much shrewder and more experienced politician.


Her personal life is also less controversial and scandal-prone. True, Palin has more name recognition, but Bachmann shares the same Christian conservative beliefs as Palin, but not the same scandals or the apparent concern for making money that has characterized Palin’s public career since 2008.


On Intrade, the popular betting site for political events, Bachmann (13.8%) trails businessman Mitt Romney (33.9%) as the favourite candidate to win the Republican nomination. She is ahead of Texas governor Rick Perry (13%), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (8.4%), former Utah governor John Huntsman (8%) and former 2008 VP candidate Sarah Palin (5.4%). In the first Republican presidential candidate debate on June 13, Bachmann was the clear winner. That was partially due to the weakness of the other candidates. Bachmann is admittedly much better than her adversaries on television. However, on the issues, she is probably less prepared, less experienced and more extreme than some of the other Republicans already on the race.


If the election were held today, Bachmann would be too far to the right to attract moderate voters. As she has little experience working with ethnic minorities (almost 25% of the electorate) and her positions alienate liberal voters (some 15% of the electorate), she would stand little chance against incumbent president Barack Obama. However, within likely Republican primary voters, Bachmann is not too conservative or too extreme. Her personality and energy are attractive. As presidential hopefuls need to raise funds and recruit volunteers, those traits will come in handy in the next few months.


True, Republican voters might put their preferences behind and opt for a candidate who can compete with Obama among moderate voters. If they choose to go for a moderate, Bachmann will not win the nomination. Yet, the primaries are still 7 months away. Republican sympathizers are not yet carefully thinking about who can beat Obama. Republicans are looking for a candidate who can motivate the electoral base and energize party loyalists. Among all the Republicans currently running for the nomination, Michele Bachmann appears best suited to fulfill that role today.