Michele Bachmann dominates Republican debate with stories of her 23 foster children

June 14, 2011

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced Monday that she was entering the presidential race. At Monday’s Republican debate, she made a strong showing by emphasizing her personal story. Op-Ed writer Dana Milbank writes:

“I just want to make an announcement,” she said when asked her first question. “I filed today my paperwork to seek the office of the presidency of the United States. . . . So I wanted you to be the first to know.”

It was a transparent gimmick – Bachmann had previously left no doubt that she would be running – but it was one of several attention-grabbing moments that allowed the back-bench congresswoman from Minnesota to stand out from the pack.

King treated viewers to a peculiar game, asking each candidate a “this or that” question. Does Bachmann favor Elvis or Johnny Cash? (Answer: both.) Does Santorum prefer Leno or Conan? (Neither.) Further questioning revealed that Pawlenty prefers Coke to Pepsi, Romney likes his wings spicy, Cain enjoys deep-dish pizza, and Paul prefers his BlackBerry to the iPhone.

But really there is only one this-or-that question of importance: Romney, or somebody else? Judging from the polls, Republican voters do not especially want Romney, an unusually weak frontrunner. But as long as six or more rivals are carving up the anti-Romney vote, none has a chance of beating him.

Based on Monday night alone, Bachmann was the one who emerged as the anti-Romney from the otherwise drab field. That is supposed to delight Romney’s advisers, who see her as less viable than the more accomplished Pawlenty. But while Pawlenty on Monday was canned and meek – he doggedly resisted repeating his earlier “Obamneycare” criticism of Romney – Bachmann displayed a powerful appeal to the Tea-Party types who dominate Republican primaries.

The Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake reported on Bachmann’s “star turn”:

For Bachmann, the debate amounted to a coming-out party — a 120-minute declaration that she is someone to be reckoned with in the race.

Her personal story...is compelling, and Bachmann made certain to tell it as many ways as possible. (She mentioned her foster children on three separate occasions.)

And her issue positions and rhetoric painted a political world of black and white, which is an appealing image for Republican primary voters. Over the course of the night, Bachmann noted her work in Congress to repeal President Obama ’s health-care law, quoted then-senator Obama to justify her opposition to raising the debt ceiling and said the Environmental Protection Agency should change its name to the “job-killing organization of America.” (Not sure that one is going to happen.)

Ezra Klein says that Bachmann has established herself as the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be. He reports:

Michele Bachmann’s interview with the Wall Street Journal is a precision-guided missile aimed at the heart of the Palin semi-campaign. Whatever you like about Palin, Bachmann will go double-or-nothing with you. Want family values? “She’s a mother of five, and she and her husband helped raise 23 teenage foster children in their home, as many as four at a time. They succeeded in getting all 23 through high school and later founded a charter school.” Want a Mama Grizzly rather than a career politician? “The kids were coloring posters in 11th grade algebra class. I decided to do my duty, go to the Republican convention. I had on jeans, a sweatshirt with a hole in it, white moccasins, and I showed up in this auditorium and everyone said, ‘Why are we nominating this guy [Gary] Laidig every four years?’” Want proof that a conservatism so raw you could use it to strip wood can win? “She ran for Congress in 2006, the worst year for Republicans in two decades. ... She won 50% to 42%.” Want someone who drives liberals crazy? “Nancy Pelosi and all her horses spent $9.6 million to defeat me in that race’ ... In 2010, the Democrats and their union allies raised more than $10 million to try to defeat her. ‘My adversaries have certainly been highly motivated,’ she says.”

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