Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) did five Sunday shows, pretty much demolishing the notion that she’s talking to only conservatives or conservative media. The questioning is getting tougher, but she remains poised, albeit evasive.
On “Fox News Sunday” Bachmann sat next to Chris Wallace, speaking in measured tones. She perfectly delivered lines supporting a position many consider entirely untenable. Here’s how it went on her no vote on the debt-ceiling bill:
WALLACE: . . . If you pay, as you said, our creditors, Social Security, Medicare and the military, and you can look at it right there, you would have to cut everything else 68 percent. Veterans benefits, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food and nutrition programs, IRS refunds, the FBI. Would you have been willing to gut those programs?
BACHMANN: Doesn’t that tell how bad off the United States is? The fact that we’re overspending to that level? Let’s just take a look for a minute. All of us pay taxes, and that tax money came to $2.2 trillion this year. We spent every cent of it, $2.2 trillion. The problem is, we spent an additional $1.5 trillion that we don’t have.
WALLACE: I agree with you. For every dollar that we spend, we borrow 40 cents.
BACHMANN: . . . So this is what we have to do. We have to grow the revenue side. We need to embrace pro-growth policies. We are not growing. The very first quarter of this year, it was anemic. It was 0.4 percent growth. That’s basically stagnant, if that. And so we have to embrace pro-growth policies and then shrink the amount of spending. So we have got to shrink the deficit but expand the amount of revenues —
WALLACE: All I would say is that’s not shrinking, that’s taking a meat cleaver.
BACHMANN: Well, I think the one thing we have to do is reject the new normal level of spending under the Obama administration. Because President Obama amped up spending to never-seen-before levels. Should we accept that we should just continue that on? I mean, one example I’ll give you is we had one employee at the federal Department of Transportation that made $170,000 a year at the beginning of the recession. We had the trillion-dollar stimulus, and 18 months into the recession, we had 1,690 employees making over $170,000. Government has really been growing, a lot of largess, but the people in the real world aren’t. And that’s what has to change. Government has no conformity at all with the real world.
She never really answered the question as to where the huge cut would have come from had the debt ceiling bill not been raised.
Wallace shouldn’t feel badly about not pinning her down. David Gregory on “Meet the Press” didn’t fare much better in trying to get her to explain why she voted against a bill her party leaders and most everyone else said was necessary to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.
GREGORY: . . . let me just, let me just take you through it. It wasn’t just the president of the United States, it was also the chairman of the Federal Reserve, it was the Treasury secretary, it was your entire . . .
BACHMANN: And they’ve done such a smashing job for us, haven’t they?
MR. GREGORY: Well, if I can just finish the question. The entire Republican leadership thought that was the wrong thing to do. Major members of the business community in this country thought that was the wrong thing to do. Why should we trust your judgment that that was the right thing to do and not a reckless act . . .
BACHMANN: It’s a great question you’re asking, a fantastic question. Because that’s the judgment of the people of this country. The people of this country would love to weigh in, and they would love to say, “Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, you’re wrong. Mr. President, you’re wrong.” And that’s what we ... .
GREGORY: ... Maybe people are against raising the debt ceiling, but the reality is, bipartisan agreement, in the business community saying you don’t do that, you don’t mess with the full faith and credit of the United States. Would you have voted the same way . . .?
BACHMANN: That’s right, that’s exactly right.
GREGORY: . . . if you were the deciding vote?
BACHMANN: That’s right, you don’t mess with the full faith and credit of the United States. That’s why I introduced the bill that I did that would have prevented any form of default. It’s President Obama who failed to put any sort of a plan forward. That’s what led to uncertainty. . . .
Remember, I introduced a bill that would not have had the United States default. The president did not. Let me tell you what the president did. President Obama went out and, and effectively said through his administration, “We don’t know if we’re going to pay our military men and women in uniform.” This was — this comment was made overseas to our men and women while they’re serving our country.
GREGORY: That’s not what the president said, that was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
BACHMANN: That was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That was highly irresponsible. The other, the other statement that was made was by the president saying to senior citizens, “We don’t know if you’ll get your Social Security checks in August.” There were people in Dexter, Iowa, who canceled their Internet, who canceled their, their satellite TV . . .
That’s just a small part of the exchange. She is simply unmatched among the current candidates in fending off pesky questions. Gregory never got around to finding out how she would have chopped down the government had the debt-ceiling agreement not been reached. He was even less successful in replowing ground on her statement about “submission” to her husband or her faith in God. Indeed, she made Gregory look a bit out of touch with how people of faith operate:
GREGORY: Would God guide your decisions that you would make as president of the United States?
BACHMANN: Well, as president of the United States, I would pray. I would pray and ask the Lord for guidance. That’s what presidents have done throughout history. George Washington did. Abraham Lincoln did.
GREGORY: . . . There’s a difference between God as a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration, and God telling you to take a particular action.
BACHMANN: All I can tell you is what my experience has been. I’m extremely grateful to, to have a faith in God. I, I see that God has so blessed this country. His — you know, we heard that song that he’s “shed his grace” on the United States. I believe it. He’s been very good to our country. And I think that it’s important for us to seek his guidance and to pray and to listen to his voice.
GREGORY: Would you appoint an openly atheist person to be a member of your administration, your Cabinet or even as a judge to a court?
BACHMANN: Well, my criteria, would be first of all, “How do you view the Constitution?” If you uphold the Constitution, if you’re competent, and if you’re — if you, if you share my views, then you can get appointed. That’s my litmus test is, do you stand for the Constitution, are you competent and do you share my views?
GREGORY: Right. Those are — but an atheist would be acceptable to you as a member of your administration?
BACHMANN: I — that wouldn’t be a question I would ask.
It’s not going to be easy to paint her as some religious wacko. In these exchanges she winds up sounding more grounded than her inquisitor. Even questions on her controversial comments on gays were swatted away. (“Well, my, my view on marriage is that I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And that’s what I stand for. But I ascribe honor and dignity to every person no matter what their background. They have honor, and they have dignity.”)
The idea that she’s going to collapse under the bright glare of the media is foolhardy. If her opponents want to have any better luck, they’d do well to press her to articulate her own plans. What would a Bachmann budget look like? What is Bachmann’s Medicare plan? If the Republicans don’t get a filibuster-proof Senate majority what would she be willing to compromise on? Her answers might reveal how prepared she is and how feasible are her plans. It beats chasing her around in circles all day.