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.