There’s a growing chorus of punditry out there declaring that Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign mustn’t be dismissed as a joke, because at the very least, she has a good chance of winning Tea Party and other conservative votes in Iowa and therefore shaking up the GOP field.
I say that’s bunk. The truth is that even the nuttiest of Iowa conservatives are unlikely to support her when the caucuses meet early next year.
Bach-mania continues to run amok in the press. The New York Times has joined Ed Kilgore, Dave Weigel, and Jonathan Martin in arguing that Bachmann should be taken seriously, at least in Iowa. Here’s how Politico’s Maggie Haberman puts it in her report from Steve King’s event over the weekend: “Michele Bachmann’s crowd-pleasing appearance at this weekend’s Iowa conservative cattle call proved once again that the Hawkeye State embraces long-shot candidates who have grassroots appeal — regardless of the way the establishment sees them.”
Perhaps. As a Bachmannia skeptic, however, it bears pointing out that she flopped in the straw poll at Steve King’s Iowa event this weekend, finishing far behind Herman Cain and a bit behind Newt Gingrich and no-show Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann “won” the most second-choice ballots, which probably means that she was the second choice of some of those who like Cain best. And yet there’s no Cain-mentum or Cain-mania in the press...reporters have basically ignored the Georgia businessman. And rightly so: he’s not going to be the Republican nominee. And neither is Michele Bachmann.
Granted, the straw poll was just 127 people, and it’s easy to make too much of those things — although failing to do much even in her ally Steve King’s event can’t be a good sign. But for a more telling indication of her chances, note that Jim DeMint picked the weekend of Bachmann hype to declare that the GOP presidential field could use a new entrant or two, specifically a governor. DeMint, unlike Bachmann, has a record of demonstrated clout among Tea Partiers and other movement conservatives.
Sure, it’s possible that Bachmann will do well in Iowa. But at bottom, this is a case of reporters paying too much attention to cable news networks and badly overrating the chances of a cable news celebrity who seems to have very little clout even within the most conservative wing of conservative movement politics. Bachmann is not going to stand out from Cain, Rick Santorum, and other flaky GOP candidates on issue positions, and in fact there’s really not going to be much distance between the fringe and the mainstream candidates on issues. Plenty of candidates have historically shown an ability to fire up a room that doesn’t translate into success, in presidential primaries, at the ballot box.
Until there’s some evidence otherwise, my bet is that she remains a longshot to finish in the top tier even in Iowa. Pundits may find Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and other mainstream candidates far less entertaining than the Bachmann circus, but the odds are strong that she’s going to remain a sideshow.