On Monday Michele Bachmann officially launches her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, the town where she was born. It's not likely that she'll be the next president of the United States. But it's entirely conceivable that this wingnut whack job -- who believes she was divinely chosen by Jesus to run for office -- could become the next vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency. Don't laugh. Be scared, very scared.
As Ezra Klein pointed out in The Washington Post "Michele Bachmann is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be." If McCain had defeated, Obama in 2008 -- entirely possible if he were running in 2012 instead -- Palin would have been vice president. As I wrote in The Huffington Post last week, as laughable as the current GOP Presidential field may appear to many liberals, if the GOP manages to nominate a candidate who's not certifiably crazy (Huntsman? Romney? Pawlenty?) and pairs him with a VP candidate who can mobilize the Republican base (Bachmann? Perry?), there's a good chance the GOP can defeat Obama, particularly if unemployment remains in the 7%-9% range and Obama has neither a narrative of how and why the economy tanked, nor a credible program to create jobs.
In early 2009, liberals laughed at the likes of John Boehner and Eric Cantor. Less than 2 years later, Republicans took back the House in a landslide. There's not much I agree with Karl Rove about, but he makes a lot of strong--and very worrisome points--in his Thursday Wall Street Journal column, "Why Obama is Likely to Lose in 2012".
But back to the general election in a moment; let's first game plan Bachmann's road to becoming the Republican vice presidential nominee. Bachmann has some of the same "Mama Grizzly" qualities that made Sarah Palin such a hit with a significant segment of the Republican electorate that's angry and resentful at sophisticated elites, but she's much smarter and better educated than Palin. She has the same kind of all-American good looks as Palin which never seem to age. And she has a compelling life story that she's expert at reciting -- born in Waterloo Iowa, raised by a single mom, mother herself to 5 children and foster mom to 23 kids who all finished high school, and founder of a charter school.
But she's also a former tax lawyer which adds street cred to her talk about tax cuts. And while her law degree was from a small evangelical Christian law school affiliated with Oral Roberts University, she also received a graduate degree in taxation from William & Mary Law School, one of the top law schools in the country. She was recently interviewed in The Wall Street Journal by quintessential country club Republican Stephen Moore who founded the free market Club for Growth and is a member of the Journal's editorial board, a good tip that despite Bachmann's forays into wingnut land, corporate Republicans see her as useful. The interview made clear that Bachmann will have no problem with Katie Couric questions about what she reads. Asked by Moore what she reads on economics,
"she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams...'I'm also an Art Laffer fiend [one of the originators of supply side economics]--we're very close,' she adds. "and [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,' getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like 'Human Action" and 'Bureaucracy.' 'When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.'"
Can you imagine Sarah Palin reading a dead right-wing Austrian intellectual economist?
And Bachmann has a knack for boiling complicated issues down into easily understood talking points. She has a simple explanation of the 2008 financial crisis that blames Democratic politicians and doesn't mention the role of too big to fail banks:
"There were a lot of bad actors involved, but it started with the Community Reinvestment Act under Jimmy Carter and then the enhanced amendments that Bill Clinton made to force, in effect, banks to makes loans to people who lack creditworthiness. ..Being on the Financial Services Committee, I can assure you, all roads lead to Freddie and Fannie."
Bachmann is quick on her feet and wiped the floor with the other Republican presidential contenders at the first debate.
She's also a whack job who believes she was divinely appointed by Jesus to run for office. But that didn't stop Sarah Palin from becoming John McCain's VP pick. In one of the first of her national TV appearances, Bachmann told Chris Mathews on MSNBC, "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America. "(Here's a big thank you to Chris Mathews for helping create Michelle Bachmann by first giving her national TV exposure, just as Bill Maher deserves thanks for helping create Ann Coulter and Christine O'Donnell.) Bachmann claims that energy saving fluorescent light bulbs pose a "very real threat to children, disabled people, pets, and senior citizens." And she asked her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" in fighting attempts to limit global warming. She believes "Carbon dioxide is natural, it's not harmful. It is part of Earth's life cycle, and yet we're being told that we have to...reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction is something that is naturally occurring in Earth." One of her job plans: "If we took away the minimum wage...we could potentially, virtually wipe out unemployment completely".
These off-the-chart extremist positions are why the corporate powers behind the throne in the Republican Party would never allow Bachmann to become the GOP presidential nominee. But when paired as a vice presidential nominee with a Romney or Huntsman, she could play a key role in firing up the activist Tea Party base of the Republican Party.
The Iowa caucuses in the state of Bachmann's birth are dominated by evangelical Christians and Tea Partiers. So let's say Bachmann comes in first or second in the Iowa, perhaps also playing spoiler to fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty. Let's say she then comes in a strong third in New Hampshire. That puts her in a good position for another strong showing in the South Carolina primary. At that point Bachmann may have solidified her place as the leading candidate of the Republican base with only two of the more "mainstream" Republican contenders of Romney, Hunstman, and Pawlenty still in serious contention. The Republican establishment comes down hard to ensure that Bachmann doesn't get the nomination. But she continues to collect 20%-40% of the votes in most Republican primaries and caucuses. She then comes into the Republican convention and throws her support to Romney or Huntsman (not to Pawlenty since they're from the same state) in exchange for the Vice-Presidential nomination.
With unemployment likely to be above 8% come election time and no meaningful program that's likely to create large numbers of jobs other than jaw-boning, President Obama remains highly vulnerable. If Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman or Tim Pawlenty prove capable of moving far enough to the right to win the Republican nomination and then pivoting far enough to the center in the general election to appear reasonably moderate, and can add a vice presidential candidate like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry to keep Tea Party voters in line, it's entirely conceivable that Obama, like Jimmy Carter, could be a one-term president.
No American president since FDR has won reelection when the unemployment rate on Election Day was more that 7.2% and most economists agree that in November, 2012 unemployment is likely to remain at 8%-9%. Obama can (rightfully) blame Bush's policies for causing the economic crisis, but after 4 years, the Bush recession becomes the Obama recession in voter's minds. A day after Obama recently said there are "bumps in the road" to economic recovery, the Romney campaign previewing the 2012 Republican campaign, ran an ad showing a series of unemployed Americans each standing up and saying "I'm an American, not a bump in the road".
It seems that Obama's campaign theme has morphed from "Change You Can Believe In" to "Things Could Have Been Worse", which just won't cut it. Unless Obama can provide a compelling narrative on how Republican policies of low taxes and deregulation caused the recession and cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes, and put forth a clear program on how to create jobs and save homes, there's a good chance a Republican will defeat him in 2012. And if that happens, there's a good chance that Michele Bachmann or someone else of her ilk will end up a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
It would be a disaster for the country, with a Republican administration that would make Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush look like liberals and would further destroy the middle class. But much of the blame would go to the likes of Barack Obama, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel who would have allowed their timid corporate centrism to avoid serious attempts to reform the economy and put Americans back to work, and given the Republicans a golden opportunity to retake political power.