WASHINGTON -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) doesn't think Republican populists have much to fear from the rival brand being peddled by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). "She is in no way a populist," Bachmann told The Huffington Post on Thursday.
Tuesday's stunning primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is increasingly being interpreted as a grassroots rejection of Washington insiders, their cronies and a rigged system that benefits only a select few. Bachmann shares in that analysis.
The New Yorker magazine went so far as to call Cantor's victorious challenger, David Brat, "the Elizabeth Warren of the right." Not so fast, said Bachmann.
Disaffected voters, she said, will not be lured by Warren, whose warnings about a system that favors the wealthy and powerful overlap in significant ways with the more populist tea party critiques.
"I don't see Elizabeth Warren as someone Republicans have to worry about, not at all. Elizabeth Warren, after all, was a major advocate of Dodd-Frank," Bachmann said, referring to the 2010 Wall Street reform law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which Warren designed and lobbied for.
The 2010 law also aimed to reform the way Wall Street is regulated -- but not in Bachmann's telling.
"Dodd-Frank is the biggest insider legislation giveaway that there's ever been," Bachmann said, speaking to HuffPost in the Capitol. "If any one is aligned with elites, it's Elizabeth Warren. She is in no way reflective of where the average American is, because what she did through Dodd-Frank was institutionalize bailouts for the major investment banks forever. That's what she did. So now the taxpayers are on the hook for who? The Goldman Sachs of the world? I mean, really? So that's what she's behind, so she is in no way a populist. Her views are among what the American people are rejecting."
Credible figures from across the political spectrum have criticized Dodd-Frank for institutionalizing the protection of too-big-to-fail banks. And Warren is closely associated with Wall Street reform, which she pushed hard for. She was not a senator in 2010 and was much more focused on the CFPB than other provisions, but it isn't unfair to connect her to the broader bill.
Of course, Wall Street did not see Dodd-Frank as nothing but a bailout, and indeed spent handsomely to try to block it from becoming law and Warren from becoming a senator. Moreover, during her tenure in the Senate, Warren has introduced legislation to break up Wall Street behemoths and publicly taken federal regulators to task for going too easy on rogue firms. As chair of the congressional oversight panel for the bank bailout program, she castigated Obama administration officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for helping big banks at the expense of troubled homeowners and other taxpayers.
But Bachmann's specific criticism of Warren is reflective of a broader populist conservative message that answers concerns about inequality and economic fairness with a critique of "crony capitalism." By focusing its ire on cronies and insiders, it leaves room for a hypothetically more just world in which government is not manipulating the free market. But when it gets to the solutions stage, the crony capitalist critique proposes a path to a purer free market that merely runs over the well-trod tracks of deregulation and lower taxes.
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