Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Bachmann Trap

Barack Obama is imminently beatable. There’s no question about it. His supporters who claim differently are doing so in an attempt to convince themselves of the president’s invincibility. Not the public at large.

The 2012 election will, almost certainly, play out as presidential elections always do when a sitting president is running for a second term. It will be a referendum on the incumbent. If the economy is weak, voters will be much less likely to give the incumbent an automatic renewal. They will look at the republican alternative and if that alternative is acceptable, many voters and particularly Independents will swing towards the challenger and put him or her in the White House.

Actually, scratch that. Not “her.” No female will be moving into the White House in 2013. The failure of some party members to understand this simple truth is generating big problems for Republicans at the moment.

Tea-Party conservatives are flocking to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann is intelligent, attractive and a rock solid conservative.

She is also gaffe prone, a favorite target for media ridicule and running 14-points behind Barack Obama in her home state.

But Bachmann supporters don’t want to hear it. While they admit that the media is attempting (successfully) to make her seem mentally unstable and radically right wing, Bachmann fans counter that the GOP should not allow the left-wing media to dictate who we choose as our candidate. They also claim that the reason that the media is attempting to demonize Bachmann is because they fear that she would beat Obama. They also theorize that the primary reason that so many “establishment” Republicans dislike her is because she is too conservative.

While, it is unfortunate that the media should have the power to devastatingly vilify politicians who don’t deserve it, the awful truth is that they do have such power. We don’t have to like it, but denying that character assassination actually has an impact on how voters see candidates is akin to believing that a morbidly obese woman could win a bikini contest because she has a wonderful personality.

Because of who Bachmann is, even her slightest most insignificant mistake will be magnified and be given legs in the media. Fair or not, the steady drip of tiny gaffes--some of which would be ignored if uttered by other politicians--will bury Bachman quicker than you can say “John Quincy Adams.”

Sadly, Bachmann is damaged goods. Worse still she plays into the character that the media has painted of her due to a host of inopportune statements and a manner that some find grating. For Republicans to take a pass on Bachmann for these reasons is not allowing the MSM to pick our candidate. It’s understanding the reality that she’s already been rendered unelectable.

In the long run, the Left may live to regret how quickly they set their sights on Rep. Bachmann. Had they gone easier on her when she first appeared on the scene they would have minimized the risk of the conservative movement coming to its senses and realizing how weak of a general election candidate she would be--a message that Democrats got just in time to avoid a disastrous Howard Dean candidacy in 2004.

While no polls are available on the subject, talk to liberal Democrats around the country and their eyes light up when presented with the prospect of a Bachmann nomination. Whether they are right or wrong, Democratic insiders and grassroots liberals alike truly believe that Bachman—in the absence of Sarah Palin-- would be among the easiest GOP candidates to beat. I’m guessing that they’re right.

When presented with this particular argument Bachman supporters make a legitimate point, but for the wrong reasons.

The Tea Party would have us remember that the conventional wisdom was that Ronald Reagan had no chance against Jimmy Carter in 1980--wisdom that proved to be wildly inaccurate.

But, at the time, the reasoning behind the conventional wisdom was that America would not elect someone as conservative as Reagan--thinking that was based on the success of moderate conservatives like Eisenhower and Nixon and the massive defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964.

But, Reagan proved that a true conservative could indeed win and today Republicans almost unanimously believe that another trueconservative could duplicate Reagan’s feat. The objections to Bachmann among conservatives arise not because of her staunch conservatism, but because of all of her other qualities.

Some conservatives--most notably Rush Limbaugh--would have us believe that left-wing media types are so terrified of certain candidates--like Bachmann and Sarah Palin-- that they attempt to destroy them so that Obama can avoid having to face them in a general election. Additionally, Limbaugh thinks that the MSM talks up candidates that they think are the most beatable--guys like Romney, Huntsman and Mitch Daniels.

It’s quite a conspiracy theory. But in all likelihood, Rush is giving liberals in the media way too much credit. It’s far more likely that the folks over at MSNBC or the New York Times simply can’t help themselves when a hated target like Bachmann trips up--the same way that conservatives can’t resist going on the attack anytime Al Gore or Barney Frank open their mouths. It’s like catnip for their audience and these media organizations need to satisfy their base, because it’s pretty much all they’ve got at this point.

In the end, Tea Partiers will hopefully come to understand that while they can change the national conversation and the ideological direction of the GOP, they cannot control the effectiveness and reach of the mainstream media. Nor can they control much of the narrative that gets fed to independent voters who, unfortunately, are not listening to conservative talk radio or tuning into the Fox News Channel in the numbers conservatives would like.

In the end, the best candidate for the GOP is the most conservative candidate who can win the general election. It would be imprudent to nominate a candidate who would cause a huge internal fight between the various segments of the party base at a time when the White House is in reach--particularly if that fight is centered on a candidate’s ability to get elected. A party can withstand an internal ideological battle, but the resentment that would be aimed at the Tea Party if it insists on Bachmann and she proceeds to get trounced would be seismic. If, despite warnings about her electability from party leaders, the base stubbornly goes with Bachman and we lose big, the Tea Party will be blamed and its credibility will evaporate. This would be one of the worst things that could possibly happen if we truly want the conservative ascendancy to continue and prevail.

The message of the Tea Party is vitally important to the future of the conservative movement and to the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, many of the candidates that the Tea party has chosen as messengers have proven incapable of generating mainstream appeal--the kind of appeal that those individuals who have been elected to the White House over the last 50 years have enjoyed. A divisive, three-term congresswoman who has had a huge target on her back for the last two-years is a very unsafe bet.

- Dan Joseph

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