Bachmann Is the Howard Dean of 2012

Does that mean she's headed for a spectacular crash?

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Michele Bachmann's surging presidential campaign is eerily reminiscent of her ideological opposite, Howard Dean, Politico's Jonathan Martin argues. She plays to a radicalized grassroots, she raises big sums online, she's taking on her own party, she freaks out her party's establishment--just like Dean in 2003. Martin does not predict that this means she'll lose miserably in an electoral "murder-suicide pact" with another candidate in Iowa next year after a scream caught on tape.

The comparisons are compelling. Just as liberal voters were overjoyed to have a Democratic candidate who opposed the Iraq war, Republican activists love that Bachmann has never voted to raise the debt limit--and her first ad in Iowa pledged she wouldn't vote to raise it this time, either. (Whether raising the debt limit proves to be as great a fiasco as the Iraq war remains to be seen.) Martin writes:

Just as Dean initially made a virtue out of an ostensible weakness--he may not have had foreign policy credentials, but unlike his primary opponents, he had enough smarts to oppose the Iraq War--Bachmann's appeal is because of, not despite, the fact she has only three terms in Congress under her belt. ...

Bachmann faces the same fundamental problem as Dean: the force powering her into contention--the base's unalloyed contempt for a president they consider illegitimate--contains the seeds of her undoing.

"[Democratic primary voters] were still so afraid of what Bush could do in a second term that in the end they got pragmatic," recalled Joe Trippi, who managed Dean's campaign. "Obama engenders that same anxiety and fear within the Republican base."

How else are these two crazy kids spiritual soulmates? We have a few suggestions:

They benefit from comparisons to the rest of the field.

Though both Dean and Bachmann are seen as a little wacky, they look pretty good onstage next to the dweebs filling out the rest of presidential lineup:

Democratic primary debate in Chicago, August 5, 2003. Photo via Reuters.

Bachmann with 2012 rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney at the June 14 primary debate. Photo via Reuters.

They were both deemed flakes.

Fox News' Chris Wallace angered many viewers when he asked Bachmann, "Are you a flake?" But that perception of Bachmann had been around a while, given her tendency to say historically inaccurate things and sort of, when you really squint, look a little like Sarah Palin. Dean was attacked because he "spent the Vietnam War skiing in Aspen." His "tongue" was "faster than his brain."

They know how to get Internet cash.

Bachmann out-raised Mitt Romney in the first quarter of this year--before she was campaigning for president--in part thanks to her online fundraising strength. Dean's campaign, of course, famously pioneered campaign fundraising online.

They're both short.

Photos via Reuters.

They're both objects of much fascination to their ideological foes.

As well as obligatory Is-this-guy-for-real coverage from the mainstream press:

As for differences, there are many. Dean had more achievements to his name: Under his governorship, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to have civil unions for gay couples. He balanced the budget and passed a health care plan. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers gripe (anonymously, of course) that Bachmann doesn't have a single legislative achievement to her name--no major bills, no committee chairmanships.

But maybe the most important thing setting them apart is that Bachmann hasn't screamed really loud at a rally.

Will Bachmann have her scream? She's a known crowd-pleaser. But she's made so many gaffes--staring into the wrong camera during her response to the State of the Union for example or accidentally appearing to invoke the name of a serial killer--that expectations are a bit low; it'd be hard to freak out the entire press corps with just a little ole scream.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.