Charles Krauthammer is out with his prognostications about the field for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. And, generally speaking, I can’t argue with any of his predictions. But he made an assertion about Donald Trump that I take issue with. “He’s not a candidate, he’s a spectacle,” wrote Krauthammer. “A provocateur and a clown, the Republicans’ Al Sharpton.”
Trump isn’t the Sharpton of the GOP. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is — and not for the reasons Krauthammer cited.
Krauthammer clings to an old image of Sharpton. Yes, the Harlem preacher and activist had his days of provocation and clownishness. But that was more than 20 years ago. Over time, everything about him has changed, from his appearance to how he plays politics. Today, there’s no question that Sharpton is a power player on the national stage. When Sharpton sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, he didn’t run to win. He ran to ensure that the issues he cares about — civil rights, criminal justice, urban issues, to name a few — were a part of the debate.
Sharpton’s stature was only enhanced by the effort. He already had great credibility with an established base when he entered the campaign. By defying the low expectations people had of him, Sharpton was able to expand his reach. Sharpton has been riding the wave ever since.
Which brings me to Bachmann, who is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory committee for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Like Sharpton, she would come to the race with an established base that feels that she’s the only one speaking for them. Like Sharpton, expectations for Bachmann will be low because of her penchant for uttering glassy-eyed nonsense. And like Sharpton, she can’t possibly believe that she can run away with the nomination.
But I don’t call her the Tea Party Queen for nothing. Unlike someone who didn’t make the Time 100 this year, Bachmann is a sitting member of Congress who is relentlessly on-message, comes prepared and doesn’t hide behind or filter her views through Twitter, Facebook and Fox News. She continually subjects herself to interviews with television anchors not reliably friendly to her worldview who hold her accountable for her views. Well, they try to.
For all these reasons, Bachmann — not Trump — is the Sharpton of the Republican Party. If she plays her cards right, she can parlay this presidential flirtation into something big.