Crossing the media transom this week comes a story brought to us by the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and not, I should point out, from The Onion. Michele Bachmann is considering a run for the White House.
I’ll just give you all a moment to let that sink in.
At first blush, the idea might not seem all that far-fetched. We may begin by considering that two of the most daunting hurdles a prospective presidential candidate must overcome are the need (and proven ability) to raise massive amounts of money and establishing national name recognition. These are bars which Ms. Bachmann has already surpassed with ease.
She was able to raise nearly $14M in rapid order, a level rarely achieved by someone who was recently described on MSNBC as a “two term, back bench member of Congress.” And she’s been spreading that money around in all the right places, including tens of thousands dumped into Iowa.
As for name recognition, that particular check-box has already been ticked. Bachmann is a staple of the cable news shows and regularly garners ink in publications far from her home stomping grounds. She’s also well known as a provider of highly inflammatory quotes, feeding plenty of grist into the media mill.
Further, she comes pre-packaged with a compelling back story, critical to building the national buzz required for such an endeavor. Michele was the consummate soccer mom, back when politicos were scrambling for the attention of that media generated demographic. She left a lucrative career as a government tax attorney to raise her own five children, while also providing foster care for 23 more. It’s a touching story, and just the sort the media loves to highlight.
But circling back to the name recognition issue, she hasn’t exactly developed the type of brand which makes campaign consultants weep with envy. During her two terms in Congress she has, by her own admission, not amassed much of a body of work. She has authored a total of zero bills which have been passed into law, fueling the impression that most of her accomplishments have come in the media, rather than on the floor of the people’s house.
More to the point, that media legend hasn’t exactly developed as a portrait of professional competence and restraint. Her exaggerated rhetoric earned her CNN honors as the “wingnut of the year” with her most widely reported remarks seeming to run toward the sarcastic more than the scholarly. Whether she is referring to the president as a socialist or a tyrant or invoking visions of McCarthyism in calling for the investigation of her colleagues who might not be “American” enough, Bachmann has engineered a legacy which doesn’t seem to lend itself to the serious business of governance.
In short, Michele Bachmann is part of a new breed of politicians, but it’s a pedigree that runs well outside the mainstream. She has perfected the art of speaking in blog headlines — the juicier the better. While most politicians at the national level seek to provide a balanced meal to a diverse group of prospective diners, Bachmann is 100% red meat all of the time.
She is, for lack of a better term, a bomb thrower, and one who seems to revel in the role. And that’s a very effective tactic for raising large sums of cash from a base which is spoiling for a Pattonesque, blood and guts battle to the death in the halls of Congress. It is not, however, a proven tactic for winning national elections where one needs to bring along the middle as well as the extreme fringe.
Of course there are more options out there for Ms. Bachmann than just a path to the White House. Her name comes up repeatedly in discussions of positions from head of the RNC to majority leadership roles. Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg was recently quoted as saying, “It seems to me she’s been floated for every possible office except queen of England.”
This, of course, is a frivolous bit of speculation. One would be hard pressed to imagine her accepting the role of Britain’s monarch as a replacement for the far more prestigious “queen of the Tea Party.”
So will she make a grab for the biggest brass ring in the land? While she’s not ruling it out, there is already a parallel story making the rounds in which she will be running for the Senate in 2012 against Amy Klobuchar. Either way, she’s clearly building up a crack political team in preparation for something big. She’s enlisted Doug Sachtleben as her communications director. Doug, as you may recall, is a veteran of the highly successful Delaware Senate bid of definitely-not-a-witch candidate Christine O’Donnell.
What could possibly go wrong?