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Michele Bachmann is on fire

Rep. Michele Bachmann, shown at the Republican Leadership Conference on Friday, rocked a capacity crowd at the RightOnline conference the following day.
REUTERS/Sean Gardner
Rep. Michele Bachmann, shown at the Republican Leadership Conference on Friday, rocked a capacity crowd at the RightOnline conference the following day.

I spent much of Saturday at the RightOnline conference at the Hilton in Minneapolis and caught the presentations of the three Repub presidential candidates who spoke, namely Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain.

There’s a lot to say about the talks and I’ll give you a taste of the reddest meat stuff later this week. But for a quick Monday morning reaction:

Bachmann is on fire. She rocked a capacity crowd in the biggest auditorium in the place. Coming at the end of a more-than-two-hour session and talking almost 40 minutes, she had them at hello. She made them laugh, she thrilled them to the core of their anti-Obama souls, she got them on their feet.

Bachmann has always been able to get a big reaction from a righty crowd. But here’s what’s relatively new. She did all that without making any “news” in the usual (or former) Bachmannian sense of getting a fact so wrong or choosing word so outrageously inappropriate that the gaffe overshadowed the rest of the presentation.

Yes, she said some things that were false. For example, she said that President Obama called for Israel to return to the 1967 borders (she called it “one of the most dangerous acts and words of this president.”) And she repeated the well-traveled and oft-debunked falsehood that the government will be adding 16,500 IRS agents to enforce the Obama health-care law. But that stuff is rounding error by the standards of the old Bachmann, who has a well-earned reputation as a serial fact-abuser.

Yes, she also tested what used to be the limits of reasonably temperate word choices. (“We’re now approaching the Obama trench of a double dip recession;” “the American version of Socialized medicine — and I am proud to say it because that’s exactly what [Obamacare] is.”) But, really, these kind of locutions are now so common that they can’t be called shocking.

But — and this comes from someone who has covered her during all three of her congressional campaigns — Bachmann has figured out how to hit the high-outrage buttons of the Obama-haters without letting her facts or her words take over the reaction. She has seriously upped her game since her congressional campaign days. After Saturday, for the first time ever, I could imagine that she could win the Republican presidential nomination.

Please. That’s not a prediction. But to me (and I wasn’t in this camp a month ago), it’s now a possibility.

Contrast with Pawlenty
Meanwhile, the contrast on Saturday with Tim Pawlenty’s talk, and the crowd’s reaction, was stark. Speaking toward the end of the day, he attracted half the audience and generated one fifth of the excitement.

TPaw might have done better to stay away, because the contrast with his Bachmann, his Minnesota unTwin, was painful.

His best line (to my ears, but perhaps you’ve heard it before) was that (with reference to Obama’s failings and to liberals in general) “you can’t be pro-job and anti-business. That’s like being pro-egg and anti-chicken.”

In an attempt to recoup from the medium-sized political disaster that Pawlenty inflicted on himself by his diffidence over the “ObamneyCare” crack at the New Hampshire debate a week ago, he tried out his new version, which goes like this:

 “If we’re going to have political charges against Barack Obama about health care reform, we better do it with somebody that is not a co-conspirator leading the charge.” A bit subtle, perhaps, since the new crack doesn’t mention Mitt Romney by name.

As for Herman Cain, he also got the righties riled up and then laughing, and he was the absolute last speaker of the conference. But, if I can be totally impressionistic, he seemed to serve more as a motivational speaker than as a serious contender for the nomination.

Bachmann just flat stole the show. I’ll pass along some more of the actual content of her remarks soon.

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Comments (19)

Bachmann is admittedly a force creating action.

Thankfully science has taught us ala Newton that for every action there is a re-action.

Like a black hole, she sucks in all around her, but in the end the horizon line yields no light. Her politics are darkness incarnate and my advice is keep your distance from her.

Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

"Bachmann is on fire."

When I see the self-immolation on the nightly news, then I'll believe it. Until then, she's just a Repub hack with no grasp of reality, and no chance at any nomination, except maybe Idiot of the Year.

I don't think there's any question that Bachmann is viewed as clown by a majority of Minnesotan's and Americans. Obviously the Tea Party likes her, but they too are a minority. All this praise of Bachmann ignores the fact that she'd drag the Republican party into oblivion if she ran against Obama. The fact she looks so good compared to the other candidates is a sad commentary on the Republican field of candidates.

As for Palwenty, I have and will always point out that he's a poster boy for mediocrity with about as much charisma as a fork. He never enjoyed much popularity in MN, and never won an election with an majority. Why anyone would expect him to excel on a national stage has always been beyond me.

I can't help but wonder what it felt like to enter the alternate "twilight zone" or "outer limits" reality in which these people dwell.

If you could have looked out a window from inside that plane of existence, what color would the sky have been? I envision a slowly-churning, sickly shade mixing all the lovely colors of long-forgotten-in-the-refrigerator moldy split pea soup onto which a cracked dish of cranberry sauce has dripped a layer of luridly bright red.

Thanks for making the expedition, Mr. Black. I'm glad you were able to return unscathed out into the clear, fresh, air of the real world once again.

I am in agreement with previous comments about the unreality of Bachmann's worldview. But I want to suggest that that's irrelevant to her chances of being taken seriously in the '12 election. I think Mr Black is on to the key aspect here - how is she perceived? Are her statements so demonstrably loony that that is the focus of reporting? Or is her discourse within what the press deems "acceptable" boundaries so that the reporting is not just about her "gaffes."

I'm old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980. I remember being thrilled that he'd been nominated because he was so clearly a clown, out of touch with reality that the election was a gimme for the Democrats. Some examples:
"trees cause more air pollution than automobiles do"
"Facism was really the basis for the New Deal."
Um, I guess I was wrong on that call.

My point is not that Bachmann is Reagan, there are lots of differences in style and substance. But this I would suggest is a lesson from the Reagan years: being in touch with reality is not a prerequisite for being president. Instead, telling the stories that the culture believes is what's key and as long as what one says isn't SO crazy that the press spends all its time talking about how crazy you are, reality is second to story.

I'd say, on that score, Bachmann has a chance. Her narrative on America taps into what people want to believe is true. And that's something that no prominent Democrat can claim, certainly not Obama.

It takes a lot more than being against Obama (or Bush) to govern effectively.

//I think Mr Black is on to the key aspect here - how is she perceived?

I talk to people all over the country, she's perceived as a clown. Someone here already pointed out that the "base" she appeals to live in the twilight zone. She couldn't win a statewide race let alone a nationwide race. She's never faced an electorate anymore mixed than the 6th district, and the audience at a Republican debate is even more narrow.

Another thing is I don't what makes you guys think that what she says and does now is all that matters, she's racked up scores of bizarre statements and behaviors over the years piled on top of whatever she says and does now, and all of that will come under scrutiny as well.

Democratic candidates may be equally bought and paid for, but a well-integrated intelligence and a basic moral component to a candidate's policy stance at least are considered relevant attributes. Observing the progression toward the Republican candidate is simply wondering whether the American public is so confused and so terrified by its incomprehension that it is ready to reenact Jonestown, Guyana on a national scale.

I'm with Jonathan. If the economy remains bad, there will be strong anger and discontent across the political spectrum. Bush wars and policy broke the economy, but it's Obama's now. A stirring demagogue could take the election. Eric, can Bachmann attract enough independents to make a real run at this?

People with charisma need to be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. Reagan had that "c" quality, so most voters didn't go any further in getting to know his politics, but who loved his charm but ignored the actual import of what he was saying--"Government IS the problem."

W with his cutsie mannerisms and southern dropping of "g's" convinced enough people that he was a good Good Ole Boy; so who cared how carelessly he chose his advisors and his VP.

How to be very, very popular without having any substance behind the glamour--or worse, yet, having unexamined beliefs, inimical to the middle and lower classes has caused tremendous damage to our country. Eight years with a clueless Texan should have made us gun-shy about basing our votes on who we'd like to have a beer with--or maybe with Bachmann, a glass of white wine...

Riling up a right wing crowd is not the same as stirring up the general electorate with anti-Obama cracks.

Meanwhile, (I did not hear the speech), generally these kinds of speeches -- especially Bachmann --have little in the way of positive ideas or solutions. Eventually she will have to disclose them, and most will not resonate well with the public.

Finally, although in her most recent appearances, she avoided incredibly outlandish commmentary -- those previous outlandish comments can not and will not be erased

I would not understate the gullibility of the American voter; but in Bachmann's case, I do not think she will gain traction in a general election. Or to paraphrase another quote: "I knew Reagan, and Michele Bachmann is no Ronald Reagan".

Only her pants.

==being in touch with reality is not a prerequisite for being president.==

This has been true for decades.

Reality may often bite back, but often by then the out-of-touch officeholder is out of office.

Pretty easy to go to the far right fringe of the Republicans and make inflamatory comments and get a good reception at a meaningless convention. When the sensible Republicans wake up Bachamann's extreme positions will fall of their own weight. She only has criticisms as her ideology which only serves a special few. Eventually she will have to have some positions that will appeal to the center of her party and then try and rationalize her far right fringe comments. She talks about proposals she has put forth. Proposals don't do anything until they become reality. Thousands of proposals are submitted each year in congress that do nothing but allow politician to say they proposed something. Most die with zero support. Bachmann doesn't have a record to run on. Her supporters and their money will soon be parted.

There's a lot of "whistling past the graveyard" going on here. Jonathan (#5) has it right.

It's not that difficult to postulate a series of conditions that make a Bachmann election possible; not likely but possible:
- economic conditions worsen
- business backing for tax breaks and less regulation (keep in mind Citizens United)
- excitement of 1st woman candidate
- terrorist attack
- disappointment with Obama's slightly left of center position (instead of way left of center)
- an administration scandal
- complacency

As to previous comments that are demonstrably false, Bachmann may take this to new heights, but she's certainly not unique in making ridiculous comments. She's got a boatload of money and an experienced campaign manager in Ed Rollins (with big wins, and also big losses).

She can do as Bush did and select a VP that will make the business community and "establishment" more comfortable.

It's like playing Russian roulette with only one of six cylinders loaded. Odds are in your favor, but...

She might be on fire right now, with a very select group of people, but the election is still an awful long time away. The Republicans will test out a half dozen flavors of the week between now and next spring. Up next: Rick Perry.

Like you, Harris, I have this nagging worry in the back of my mind about Bachmann. In a Republican field that is so clearly disconnected from reality that particular liability of hers is not a problem. It will be in the general election. Like Eric, I'm surprised at the lack of gaffes and misquotes not present in the last week. That will come as she becomes more comfortable with the surroudings. Even the little lies she tells now, hardly insignificant, seem to be lost in the total fantasy of the Republican Party. Bachmann's meteoric rise is equally matched in the last week by Pawlenty's rock like descent. His boring presentation and character simply cannot in any concoction by his handlers create the kind of excitement and following necessary for another year and a half of media over exposure. He would simply dribble off the stage in a sputtering erosion of interest and support. Perhaps the only thing Pawlenty has going for him is his determination to make rich people richer at the expense of everyone else. In that he should be able to get adequate financing. Bachmann, however, probably trumps him in that capacity as well. She already owns the record for money raised in a conggressional campaign.

It pays to remember that Reagan the nut was not elected in 1980 by the majority of the electorate, he got just over 25% of the eligible voters. He was elected by far more who did not participate at all. What he one on was discouraging enough voters to stay home.

For Bachmann to have any chance of getting elected President there will have to be dramatically consolidated Far Right GOP turnout behind her in the primaries and a very low turnout from the general population in the general election.

The lesson of Reagan's win was the discouragement of enough average citizens that the smaller turnout could be topped by his partisans.

The situation now is very different from 1980. Jimmy Carter was a damaged president who had failed to successfully resolve the Iran hostage situation, partly because William Casey and others persuaded the Iranians to wait to release the hostages until after the election in exchange for arms and spare parts and stuff. Perhaps you recall, the hostages were cut loose immediately--to the minute--after the conclusion of Saint Reagan's inauguration speech?

And Rs out there have a problem with that?

Thought not.

President Obama, on the other hand, is the guy who got bin Laden. And, Saint Reagan, notwithstanding his other numerous faults, was never a bomb throwing demagogue who appealed to his constituents' basest instincts.

A Bachman candidacy would energize the left AND the independents like nothing else. They'd turn out in droves.

She didn't get the committee assignments, and she won't get the nomination. Self destructive as many Rs are, they'd face annihilation, and they know it. They won't let it happen. TP is a far more acceptable sacrificial lamb, assuming that Romney will not be able to get past his health care "mistake."

She can run. But she can't win.