Rollins cast early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as testing grounds for Perry. "He has to win somewhere," Rollins said. But in reality, those states look far more difficult for Bachmann than for Perry. He's leading in the three most recent polls of Iowa while she has dropped up to 7 points in the past month. She's running third in South Carolina, where Perry has double-digit leads over both her and Romney. And in the only New Hampshire poll since Perry became a candidate, Romney is a distant first, followed by Perry. Bachmann is fourth, behind Ron Paul.
What can Bachmann do to shake things up? She made news in the first candidate debate by announcing her intention to run for president, and by performing above expectations. She'll have plenty of opportunities to reassert her claim on the tea party crown and spark some drama -- maybe even take Perry down a peg or two -- in the string of debates this fall.
More fundamentally, Bachmann is going to need to show depth. The devastating August jobs report is putting a burden on all candidates, including President Obama, to demonstrate they have ideas to make things better. Jon Huntsman released a detailed plan last week. Romney's is out and Obama's is due Thursday. Perry can rely on his record of job creation in Texas for a while, but both he and Bachmann will have to put their proposals on the table before long.
Interestingly, a questioner at Jim DeMint's Labor Day candidate forum on the Constitution took a detour to the issue of the day and asked Bachmann to describe her jobs program. She said the country could get a $1.2 trillion capital infusion if U.S. corporations could bring home overseas profits at a zero percent tax rate. She also talked about lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and blocking regulations in the new health law. "We need private directed solutions and we also need permanent solutions rather than temporary government gimmicks," she said.
There were no contentious rivals, moderators or audience questioners to ask Bachmann how any of that would raise consumer demand or get companies already sitting on cash to start hiring. No one asked her to define "gimmicks," or to explain what if anything she might do right now to get things moving in the short term. Nor did anyone ask her who she might listen to for economic advice; she has already ruled out financial experts at places like PIMCO and Standard & Poor's.
Bachmann did demonstrate at the forum the key leadership trait of compartmentalization. It wasn't quite the feat Obama pulled off last spring at the White House Correspondents Dinner, when he delivered a comic speech just after having ordered special forces to go after Osama bin Laden. Still, on the day of a campaign shakeup she knew would make news, Bachmann was her usual poised self onstage. She denounced Franklin Roosevelt's "elastic" view of the Constitution as a means to an end, described the new health insurance mandate and the appointment of presidential "czars" as unconstitutional, and suggested the existence of the federal Department of Education goes counter to the constitutional understanding of education as a state and local responsibility.