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The Battle of the Bachmanniacs: Mercenaries versus missionaries

Wry Wing Politics
Michele Bachmann
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Does Bachmann regularly make extreme statements because they are heartfelt, or is it a crass and calculated effort to score political points with the conservative base she needs to win in her conservative district, and in conservative presidential primaries?

The Star Tribune’s Kevin Diaz is covering an interesting story about an ugly battle happening inside Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign circles.  The coverage details allegations made by an evangelical leader named Peter Waldron who worked as a national field coordinator for the Bachmann-for-President staff.

Mr. Waldron is accusing Bachmann of several things, including complex and serious violations of Federal Election Commission (FEC) spending laws.  But at the visceral core of Waldron’s allegations, he is also blowing the whistle on the fact that Bachmann refused to pay Waldron and his campaign allies, at the same time she was paying a lot of money to a political consultant, Guy Short, and an Iowa Republican party official, Kent Sorenson.  This as much about the IOU as the FEC.

This skirmish shines a spotlight on a type of tension that is very common with just about all modern political campaign staffs.  The campaign staff battle lines fall out this way:

  • MISSIONARIES.  Some campaign staffers are missionaries.  They are zealous believers in a particular ideology and/or theology.  Missionaries are motivated by policy purity.  They want to convert others to their way of thinking, at any cost. Mr. Waldron seems to have been a leader of the missionary camp on the Bachmann campaign.
  • MERCENARIES.  Then there are the mercenaries.  These are the professional political soldiers who are paid handsomely to swoop in to do battle for the candidate during the campaign.  Mercenaries are motivated by the profit motive and winning, because winning leads to jobs and future profit-making opportunities.  The hired guns are working to win the election, at any cost. Mr. Short seems to have been in the mercenary camp of the Bachmann campaign.

On both sides of the aisle, missionaries and mercenaries don’t much like or trust each other.  Mercenaries believe that missionaries are naïve, impractical rubes who get in the way of their pragmatic stategies to appeal to the swing voters needed to win elections.  At the same time, missionaries believe that mercenaries are soulless, selfish profiteers intent on masking the very qualities that first attracted the missionaries to the candidate.

So, there are many interesting things about this story.  It certainly is interesting that federal regulations may have been violated.  That’s serious. It is also interesting that the former Bachmann apostle is now a Bachmann Judas.  That’s fascinating.

But to me, the most interesting story angle is this: Political observers have long wondered whether Michele Bachman was driven more by a missionary drive, or a mercenary drive. That is, does she regularly make extreme statements because they are heartfelt, or is it a crass and calculated effort to score political points with the conservative base she needs to win in her conservative district, and in conservative presidential primaries? Is she on a mission, or is she just playing political games?

In this case, with money tight, Bachmann had an extremely difficult choice to make.  Do I take care of the missionaries, or the mercenaries?  Who are my people?  Who do I value more?

Bachmann chose the mercenaries.  This leads me to think that when push comes to shove, Michele Bachmann may be more like the raw power brokers in DC than many suspect.  This episode shows that Bachmann is focused on keeping and growing her political power, and ingratiating herself to the political powerbrokers who can help her do that.

I don’t want to overstate the case.  Politicians are complex creatures, and so the truth is that Bachmann is probably part missionary and part mercenary.  But funding crises bring out people’s core values.  And with Bachmann facing a kind of political Sophie’s Choice last year, she sided the political mercenaries.  That’s telling.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics

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