This is my latest column. It is available on RenewAmerica by clicking here. It will be coming up on IntellectualConservative and NewsWithViews as well.
Bachmann's Tumultuous Road to the Lead
The rivalry between presidential contestants Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty is a display to be appreciated by conservatives. So is Ms. Bachmann's ability to motivate a usually-inattentive media to focus on conservative ideas. For Minnesotans, it is noteworthy that the state's two flagship newspapers have taken to running analyses of the couple's differences with near-daily regularity. Unfortunately, the media's lack of familiarity with Republican politics results in an inadequate understanding of subtleties vital to understanding the candidates.
It is accurate and easy enough to observe, as the media has done to some extent, the stylistic and philosophical differences between Ms. Bachmann and Mr. Pawlenty. As was recently reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the latter's spokesman recently attacked Ms. Bachmann for "giving speeches and offering failed amendments" while his own candidate "was scoring conservative victories." Mr. Pawlenty himself attacked his opponent's record as "nonexistent."
These politically-themed attacks took place, of course, as anonymous sources formerly employed by the Bachmann campaign directed attacks of a more personal nature, asserting that their former employer suffered from migraines that would be incapacitating to a president.
In analyzing Ms. Bachmann's present standing in the presidential race, I would suggest looking back to the 2006 campaign in which she won the Republican Party's endorsement for the United States House. At the time, Ms. Bachmann was a mere three-year veteran of the Minnesota State Senate, but she obtained a reputation for disrupting the traditional copasetic conformity of legislative Republicans.
She inspired Republican activists, the passionate sort that more old-time Republicans often disdain, to come out in the numbers necessary for their perspective to win. It was an achievement to be admired particularly due to its rarity.
One of the old-time Republicans' best arguments against Ms. Bachmann was that she was no more conservative than the other candidates. Craig Westover, currently the Communications Director for the Republican Party of Minnesota, wrote at the time, "What differences exist [between the candidates] are more a matter of emphasis than substance. The race is not even about choosing the best candidate or the best person. All have integrity; all are electable."
I consider Mr. Westover a friend and a faithful member of the conservative cause. Yet in retrospect, it seems unlikely that any of Ms. Bachmann's Republican opponents would have defined the conservative movement as significantly in recent years as Ms. Bachmann. So it is ironic that Mr. Pawlenty's campaign has found itself making the same assertion in the present day, insisting that there is "very little difference" between the candidates. The very insistence implies that Ms. Bachmann embodies the epitome of Republicans' ideals.
For conservatives, Ms. Bachmann's weakness may be considered that she does not always prioritize the conservative movement over her personal preferences. When she selected Ron Carey, who served as chairman of the Minnesota GOP from 2005-2009, to serve as her chief of staff in 2010, any informed Minnesota conservative could have predicted the outcome.
I first met Mr. Carey as a recently-elected county Republican chairman in 2007. In the years to follow, it became evident that he was an old-time Republican who supported a moderate Republican party. He withheld support from endorsed Republicans who were too conservative for the moderate side of the GOP, and he tried to dissolve local Republican groups that were too critical of Republicans such as those from the state's congressional delegation who voted for government bailouts. That included my own.
However, he did make a decision to heavily fund Ms. Bachmann's congressional campaign, and Ms. Bachmann cited that in her decision to hire Mr. Carey. After five months on the campaign, firing staff members and replacing them with his own people, Mr. Carey quit. In last month's issue of the Des Moines register, he wrote, "Having seen the two of them, up close and over a long period of time, it is clear to me that while Tim Pawlenty possesses the judgment, the demeanor, and the readiness to serve as president, Michele Bachmann decidedly does not."
Unsurprisingly, publications like the Minneapolis Star Tribune are now speculating that Mr. Carey may be the source of any allegations concerning Ms. Bachmann's migraines. It is impossible to convey the sense left behind by countless personal impressions, but that sort of petty personal attack is reminiscent of Mr. Carey's old modus operandi.
Ms. Bachmann's voice has been an asset to the conservative movement. Her opponents' inability to understand her or her followers prevents them from diminishing her standing. Conservatives may hope that she gains strength going forward, but they may also hope that she does not forget who genuinely supports her cause.