Michele Bachmann: Of and for the tea party
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann made one thing crystal clear in announcing her intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination Monday in Iowa: She aims to be the tea party candidate in 2012.
“I want my candidacy for the presidency to stand for the moment when ‘we the people’ reclaimed our independence from a government that has gotten too big, spends too much and has taken away too much of our liberty,” she said.
The speech was larded with references to the founding fathers — Bachmann even quoted Daniel Webster — and repeatedly envisioned a return to first principles; “We have to recapture our founders’ vision of a constitutionally conservative government if we are to secure the promise of the future,” Bachmann said at one point.
Bear-hugging the tea party is clearly what Bachmann hopes will distinguish her from a top tier of candidates that includes more establishment-aligned candidates like former governors Mitt Romney (Mass.), Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) and Jon Huntsman (Utah).
Each of those candidates — with the possible exception of Huntsman — will court tea party activists. But none of the three is, ultimately, of the movement in the same organic way that Bachmann can claim she is.
Bachmann’s strategic gambit is not dissimilar to the way in which former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee positioned himself among Iowa evangelical voters in 2008.
Huckabee touted his credentials as a Baptist minister to prove to social conservatives that he wasn’t just another politician trying to win their vote but someone who — throughout his life — had been fighting the fight alongside them.
It worked as Huckabee won Iowa despite being drastically outspent by Romney.
The new Des Moines Register poll suggests that Bachmann’s embrace of the tea party could pay major political dividends for her in next year’s caucuses.
More than six in ten people in the survey identified themselves as a tea party supporters — far more than the 46 percent who described themselves as born-again Christians.
(Those numbers suggest that fiscal issues could well trump social ones in Iowa in 2012 but that’s a subject for another column.)
Of those who identified as tea party supporters, Bachmann received 29 percent in a hypothetical 2012 caucus ballot — well ahead of businessman Herman Cain (16 percent) and Romney (14 percent).
What the Register poll makes clear is that if Bachmann can simply maintain her support among those who closely identify with the tea party, she’s the frontrunner in the state’s caucuses. (For a fuller treatment of Bachmann as Iowa frontrunner, make sure to check out our post from this morning.)
Of course, Bachmann’s attempt to unify the tea party behind her — in Iowa and beyond — isn’t a simple task.
While Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman aren’t likely to challenge her seriously on that front, two candidates still contemplating the race — former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — could well fracture the Bachmann tea party coalition.
Palin, who will be in Iowa Tuesday to attend the premiere of a biopic about her life in elected office, has long cast herself as a candidate for and of the tea party and almost certainly would do so again if she entered the 2012 presidential race.
Ditto Perry who was the first major Republican politician to attend a tea party rally — way back in the summer of 2009 — and whose states’ right message is perfectly attuned to tea party activists who resent what they believe to be the out-of-control growth of the federal government under President Obama.
Of course, the longer Perry and Palin stay on the sidelines the more time Bachmann has to consolidate the tea party behind her. And, if her announcement speech on Monday is any indication, she is moving quickly to do just that.