has always seemed limited by the same qualities that make her
irresistible to a certain kind of conservative. But on Monday night, she
displayed a broader appeal. From her very first answer, which she used
to declare her presidential candidacy, Bachmann sounded not only cogent
but often convincing.
than coming across as a fringe figure, she looked as if she belonged on
stage with the other candidates, outshining most of them and comporting
herself in a way that seemed plausibly presidential. That's been the
challenge that most other Tea Party candidates have failed. Other heroes
of the movement, from Sharron Angle to Christine O'Donnell to Rand
Paul, have often frightened ordinary voters. But on Monday at least,
Bachmann did not.
the first time that a lot of people got to see her as a real talking
person and not a sound bite,'' said Lawrence Jacobs, the director of the
Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of
Minnesota. "It was like her coming out party: the Michele Bachmann
presidential debutant ball.''
was intriguing is that she managed to bridge the divide between Tea
Party and mainstream Republicans, a feat that few others have
accomplished. Bachmann proudly proclaimed her faith -- she's head of the
House Tea Party caucus -- and then went on to give several examples of
how she had applied it in Washington.
noted that she had introduced legislation to overturn President Obama's
two major achievements, health care reform and financial regulation.
But she also emphasized her independence from the Republican Party by
explaining how she had taken the lead on the issue that most offends
many conservative voters, the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- the
bailout -- devised by George W. Bush's administration. "I fought behind
closed doors against my own party on TARP,'' she said. "It was a wrong
vote then. It's continued to be a wrong vote since then. Sometimes
that's what you have to do. You have to take principle over your
Bachmann was the
evening's breakout star. But there is likely to be a limit to how far
she can go. For all the attention she draws to herself, she hasn't
actually done much in Congress. "She runs on what's wrong, not on what
she's accomplished,'' said Jacobs. And several people who have worked
for her, including her former chief of staff, have stated that she has
no business running for president.
she has at least three big factors working for her: the deep
dissatisfaction among conservative voters with the current presidential
field; the palpable yearning for a candidate to emerge and challenge
Mitt Romney, who remains unpopular in many quarters; and her own record
as a prolific fundraiser with a distinct national profile -- something
her debate performance is certain to enhance. She has another thing
going for her, too. She's exactly the type of politician who ought to
appeal to Iowa's socially conservative Republican caucus-goers. (She was
even born in Waterloo, Iowa.)
history of slip-ups and strange claims makes it a little hard to
believe that the woman who shone in the debate is here for the duration.
But Republicans are yearning to be excited. They'll make allowances. If
Bachmann can keep it together a little longer, this may not be the last
surprise she offers.
Joshua Green writes a weekly column for the Boston Globe.
Image credit: AP
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