Hello, America. The Speculatron has been away on vacation for the past couple of weeks. But not much has changed, really, since we left. Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann remain the top dogs. Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty have dropped to the cellar. In the murky middle you'll find Herman Cain and Ron Paul. On the sidelines you'll see Rick Perry. Staying away from the field, you'll find Chris Christie. And Sarah Palin? Still trollin' on Facebook. So, what's new with you guys? Everyone doing well, we hope?
Actually, over the past week, there have been some ripples in the mostly placid waters of the 2012 primary season. One big change is that Tim Pawlenty has decided that he's going to go on the offensive. But not against Mitt Romney -- rather, he's been training his shots at his fellow Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann. Citing her thin legislative record and her tendency to say batty things, Pawlenty described himself as the candidate who "gets stuff done," and Bachmann as the one with the "pattern of being inaccurate and off the mark." Bachmann returned fire by blaming Pawlenty for the massive budget mess the state of Minnesota finds itself in, and comparing the former Minnesota Governor to President Barack Obama. As Ed Kilgore puts it, here is your "first GOP presidential deathmatch."
And yet, this week we've also found that Pawlenty and Bachmann share some common ground, which doesn't escape Kilgore's attention: both candidates are from the "Cut, Cap, and Balance" wing of the GOP, and both initially opposed the efforts of House Speaker John Boehner to pass a short-term deal that would raise the debt ceiling. There is, of course, an expectation that both candidates would take a position on the matter that's had Washington in its grips over the past few weeks, but it's a fine example of what happens when your 2012 candidates start pressuring Beltway-bound lawmakers: their clarion calls from the primary perch exert an undue influence over the debate. Dave Weigel captures Bachmann's influence very ably:
From a classic media/message perspective, Michele Bachmann was the GOP establishment's biggest impediment. She spent the week campaigning in Iowa, and her big event on Thursday was a speech at the National Press Club with reporters present from every major news organization. She reiterated her opposition to raising the debt limit, even though she'd signed her own special version of Cut, Cap, and Balance that pledged her to raise the limit if the final deal included the repeal of the Affordable Care Act -- a fantasy. While Republicans were whipping votes, she sent out a fundraising letter.
With this in mind, consider Mitt Romney. He's put his name on "Cut, Cap, and Balance," but he's also offered Boehner's efforts a round of "applause." His critics in the media and on the stump have done their best to accuse Romney of being too timid to take a stand on the issue. Jon Huntsman, most notably, attempted to call Romney out on the matter. But Romney's not out to pressure any GOP lawmakers or ruffle anyone's feathers or push the debate to suit his whim. This is Romney's consistent effort -- his self-portrayal as a hands-off consensus builder. He's got nothing but nice things to say about his fellow Republicans, and he's banking on the fact that in the end, he'll get support from establishment figures in the GOP leadership.
If it all comes down to Romney versus Bachmann, who do you think the GOP House leadership backs? The candidate who offered generic support and stayed out of the way, or the candidate who questioned their ideological purity?
I guess we'll find out someday, because remember, we still have weeks and weeks of pageantry to endure before the first primary. In the meanwhile, Herman Cain is sorry about the mean things he said about Muslims. Newt Gingrich is breaking up with Tiffanys. Buddy Roemer's looking for a Colbert bump. Ron Paul's looking for the Ames Straw Poll to deliver destiny. President Obama is wisely staying off of HBO. And do I read this correctly, that one of your 2012ers will be campaigning in the company of a bagpiper? It's been that kind of week, people. Please feel free to find out more by entering the Speculatron for the week of July 29, 2011.
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