The Bachmann “Bubble”
Imagine if Bachmann had discussed Iraq policy at length while referring constantly to the country as “Iran” and its people as “Iranians.” ~Jonathan Chait
Were Bachmann to make a mistake as bad as the one that Pawlenty made, she would be written off immediately as no better than Palin. In fact, one of the reasons Bachmann had largely been written off until she entered the race is that she has made some bizarre statements on Iran and Iraq in the past, among other things, but the difference is that Pawlenty’s errors are given a pass because he has already been deemed a “serious” candidate. Pawlenty appears to be free to say all sorts of truly ridiculous things without losing his status as a “major contender” for the nomination. For all of the reasons I have laid out before, I don’t believe Bachmann could be the nominee, but this is mainly because I don’t believe the GOP primary electorate supports insurgent candidates when there is an establishment front-runner available.
It is a mistake to dismiss Bachmann’s current position as little more than a bubble. If Pawlenty appears to lack authenticity, Bachmann seems to have it in spades. This was the same intangible quality that made Huckabee into a significant challenger in 2007-08, and Bachmann is poised to build on what Huckabee achieved. Huckabee’s appeal was mainly limited to evangelicals and social conservatives, and even then his appeal was mostly confined to culturally Southern states. Bachmann will be able to have a somewhat wider appeal within the party.
Wilkinson is normally hyper-sensitive to the presence of what he would call Christian nationalism in American politics, but he seems to have completely missed that Bachmann can rely on evangelical identity politics and nationalist appeals to at least as great a degree as Palin and perhaps as much as George Bush before her. She is also closely tied to Tea Party and pro-life activists, and apart from her criticism of the Libyan war no one would confuse Bachmann for a dove. She represents a huge part of the party, she has the potential to become the main anti-Romney candidate to rally conservative voters against him, and she appears to have enough political talent to translate that into a decent showing.
That doesn’t mean that Bachmann can or will defeat Romney for the nomination. He has every conventional advantage in terms of money, organization, and party backing. Romney isn’t going to prevail over her because she implodes, but because there are still more Republican voters who prefer electability.