Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running a celebrity-style campaign for the White House.
The clearest sign yet that Michele Bachmann is not running a typical campaign for the presidency came at the end of her address Sunday night at the Black Hawk County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, Iowa. Speaking in her hometown, and taking the stage minutes after her newest, biggest competitor in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bachmann had a surprise planned to celebrate her victory at the Ames Straw Poll.
"One thing I learned when I was little was if you come to say thank you to someone, it's a good idea if you can give them something," she said. "Have you ever been to Machine Shed restaurant? Well, I went to Machine Shed restaurant on my way here today, and I thought there is nothing more American than apple pie. And I brought the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie that I could for you tonight."
Apple pie had already been served for dessert, which Bachmann missed because she showed up late and waited in the parking lot until Perry's speech was finished. But never mind that; she had the floor and she was rolling now. "I remember when I was a little girl at the mother-daughter banquet over at First Lutheran Church, one thing they'd always do, they'd put a piece of masking tape under a folding chair and then they'd look under your chair to see who wins the prize," she said. "Soooo—tonight this is how we're going to do it: I would like to give this apple pie to the oldest—if you don't mind—Republican mother in the room. So let's see, do we have anybody who's over 39?"
When it was all over, two standing ovations later, a 100-year-old Republican mother named Mary had come home with the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie in Waterloo and the audience that had been so smitten with Perry moments earlier was reminded of what had made Bachmann such a political force in the first place. And Bachmann had one last treat for the crowd. "I've got some Sharpie pens," she said. "So if any of you are here and want some T-shirts and some autographs, I'd be more than happy to give them to you."
Politicians do not normally end campaign events by giving away prizes, daytime television-style, or inviting attendees to come up to the stage and ask them for their signature. That kind of thing tends to make you look like a celebrity, and "celebrity" is a dirty word among politicians, second only, perhaps, to "politician." Witness this memorable John McCain spot from 2008:
As Dave Weigel pointed out in Slate on Monday, though, celebrity has become the defining element of Bachmann's campaign in Iowa so far.
Bachmann's "Meet Me in Ames" tour was more like the blitz you see before an election. Over one week in Iowa, before the straw poll, I saw her speak five times. A stage was set up outside, where cameras could get good, sun-bleached shots. Voters were urged to stand close to the stage or behind it—also for good shots. As "Promised Land" played, Bachmann's bus came into view; during the second playing she exited it. She spoke for roughly 20 minutes. When her speech ended, she stayed on the stage to shake hands, sign autographs, and get buttonholed in very short "thank-you-for-what-you're-doing" conversations. Only once did I see her break the format, with a town hall meeting on Monday that featured five audience questions.
Likewise, when I waited for an hour along with more than 100 others at the Iowa State Fair to hear Bachmann speak on Friday, she showed up 30 minutes late, spoke for four minutes (out of the allotted 30), and left in a mob of state troopers, press, and campaign staffers. All of that speaks to just how tightly Bachmann's handlers are managing all aspects of her candidate's image—stonewalling on unfavorable questions and turning her events into miniature rock shows (she entered the Electric Ballroom with Elvis blaring in the background and insisted that the lights be changed before she would come on stage). That might not be a terrible strategy; if the number of supporters who left bearing autographed blue T-shirts was any indication, the "celebrity" tag is part of Bachmann's appeal.
Back in Waterloo, Bachmann finished off her night with a quick press conference, which, it turned out, was mostly an excuse for the candidate to get a few more quick photos of her holding a copy of Sunday's Waterloo Courier, her Ames victory splashed across the front page. In case anyone had forgotten, she announced her name and current occupation—"My name's Michele Bachmann, and I'm running for president"—and took three quick questions from preselected reporters. Then she stood on the steps of the bus, holding up the newspaper triumphantly once more, just as she had done on stage at the beginning of her speech, and spoke as if the gaggle of flip-cams and boom mikes and pens-and-pads were just another fawning audience holding out for some red meat.
"Thank you! Thank you!" she said, and vanished into the bus.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running for president.
I have a magazine story that's up on the site today tracing Michele Bachmann's political evolution from a born-again high school student to a Minnesota state senator. The headline more or less captures the thrust of the piece: "Crazy? Like a Fox." You can call her a flake or a loon or a black helicopter Republican (as her Senate colleagues did behind her back), but Bachmann has a coherent worldview that her opponents would do well to understand—it's what's made her political rise possible.
One of the key elements of her ideology, as I've noted previously, was the work of theologian Francis Schaeffer, whose film How Should We Then Live Michele and her husband Marcus watched together as Winona State University undergrads. Schaeffer's central premise—one that Bachmann has explicitly endorsed and adopted for her own ends—is that American society has been beset by moral relativism. Rome fell because it was built on a lousy foundation—a flimsy belief system whose gods themselves were prone to vice, not virtue. A consequence of that was a willing submission to humanity's basest impulses. Speaking amid the ruins of Pompeii, Schaeffer notes that the city was in the midst of a "cult of the phallus" just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Fear of moral relativism helps to explain why Bachmann embarked on her crusade to combat gay marriage and keep homosexuality out of Minnesota public schools with such fervor. Being gay wasn't just an individual sin—it was symptomatic of a society in disarray. But don't ask her about any of that now. Despite persistent questioning on the subject, she's still refusing to talk about her anti-gay views. Here's Michael Shear:
On ABC's "This Week," Mrs. Bachmann was asked about a statement she made in 2006 that being gay was the equivalent of "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement."
Mrs. Bachmann declined to say whether she still believed those words, saying only that "I am not running to be any person's judge. And I give — I ascribe dignity and honor to all people, no matter who they are. And that's how I view people."
On "Meet the Press," she gave a similar answer to the same question.
"I don't judge them. I don't judge them," she told host David Gregory. "I'm running for the presidency of the United States."
Bachmann's best articulation of her go-to response to questions about gay issues was on "Meet the Press," when she said, "these kind of questions aren't what people are concerned about right now." That's true—unless you're among the millions of LGBT Americans directly affected by these issues. Or, for that matter, unless you're Michele Bachmann, who has now signed two pledges in the last month committing her to oppose gay marriage, and who makes her leadership on the issue part of her stump speech. In essence, Bachmann is arguing that gay marriage is a really trivial issue that's also an existential threat to the core foundation of American society, the family. Got that?
When Rick Perry arrived at the Electric Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday night, he was greeted like a soon-to-be conquering hero. The Texas governor and newly minted Republican presidential candidate was immediately mobbed—first by the press, and then by a crowd of well-wishers, all eager to meet the GOP's new savior, the man who can turn back the red tide of socialism next November and return the United States to its constitutional, Judeo-Christian roots. If nothing else, he's got a firm handshake. A very, very firm handshake.
It was day two of the Perry campaign—he formally kicked things off with a speech in South Carolina on Saturday—but the Waterloo visit was his first stop in Iowa, and, more to the point, his first stop in the city Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has made the centerpiece of her own presidential campaign. With Bachmann's victory at the Ames Straw Poll still fresh, the two front-runners for Iowa's first-in-the-nation 2012 primary shared the stage at a county GOP fundraising event and offered a glimpse of what the next four months (if not longer) might look like.
Perry's pitch depends heavily on driving a cultural wedge between himself and the current president. In fairness, there's a pretty wide gulf between the two. Perry talks up his hometown of Paint Creek, Texas, a pinprick of a town with "no zip code" where he met his wife at a piano recital when he was 8, earned a gold star in 4-H, and became an Eagle Scout. He segues from there to his career as an Air Force transport pilot, which, he says, taught him that America truly was God's exceptional nation. "I realized not everyone values life the way we do," he says.
Perry is from Paint Creek, and he is everything else he describes, too, but the larger point—the one Black Hawk County Republicans were supposed to hear—is that Perry has the kind of upbringing conservatives have never forgiven Barack Obama for not having. As Mike Huckabee put it, most Americans grew up with Boy Scouts and Rotary clubs, not madrasas (ignoring that Obama was, in fact, a Boy Scout). Perry went abroad to discover how much he loved America; Obama went abroad to discover his Mau Mau roots.
In his address in Waterloo, Perry identified the exact age—27—at which he fully understood the greatness of America, and then he brought things to the present day, jettisoning any pretenses of subtlety.
"One of your Iowans will be placed in God's green earth this Friday—one of these young Navy SEALs who lost his life in Afghanistan," he said. Then he put the loss in context: "One of the reasons—one of the powerful reasons I'm running for president is to ensure that every young man that puts on the uniform for this country respects entirely the president of the United States." (Read my colleague Adam Weinstein on the full meaning of this quote.)
Throughout all of this, as Perry discussed the urgent need for deregulation and lawsuit reform, he mixed his Texas folksiness (a humble swagger, if there is such a thing) with the controlling style of an executive. At various points in his remarks, he directed his statements at "Senator"—as in Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the other high-profile dinner guest—as if he were already a part of the Washington discourse he says he disdains.
"The idea, and you tell me whether this true or not, but one of my fellas told me if you drive a tractor from one side of the road to another, you're gonna have to have a commercial driver's license—I mean get out of here!" he said. He checked with Grassley to hear if that was the case and was relieved to find out that it wasn't. But the point stands.
When taken with his continued insistence that, for the last two years, he wasn't interested in going to Washington, Perry is framing his entrance as that of a modern-day Cincinnatus, a reluctant old soldier who put down his Ruger .380 with laser sights and hollow-point bullets and left behind the parched scrubland of Paint Creek to make things right.
"I hope nobody took that as being angry, because I have heard people tell me, you know, you tea party folks are angry. We're not angry; we're indignant," Perry said, to hollers from the audience. "We're indignant at the arrogance and the audacity that this administration is showing about the values that are important to the people of America." Perry's line of attack is cutting, but it is not new. He's simply adopting the tack that's been used by some of Obama's previous opponents—Perry, to use John McCain's line, is "the American president Americans have been waiting for."
Update: Here's Perry talkin' about why he's he's indignant:
She won the Ames straw poll on Saturday and is the clear favorite to win the Iowa caucuses in January. There's a method to Michele Bachmann's madness.
Tim MurphyAug. 15, 2011 6:00 AM
There's a storyMichele Bachmann likes to tell when she speaks to religious audiences. It arrives about three-quarters through her stump speech, after the warning to opponents that she is "one tough cookie" and the crowd-pleasing pledge to make Barack Obama a—say it together—"One. Term. President."
As Bachmann tells it, America's national sovereignty is slipping away, and the sanctity of the family is being overrun by an encroaching nanny state. But we can find hope in the story of the Israelites, who, after drifting from their faith and coming under siege in their own land, shunned their false idolatry and pushed back the invaders with God's help: "The men of Issachar understood the times that they lived in, and they knew what to do," she says, referring to one of the 12 tribes of Israel. "They had the courage to carry it out." Although Bachmann doesn't note this, it's the only episode in the Bible in which men are led into battle by a woman, Deborah.
This is Michele Bachmann's message, in its biblical essence: America will be restored to its founding glory by a righteous few, and it's going to take a fight. "It is my opinion that God has not given up on the United States of America," she says, the crowd beginning to feel it, "and we shouldn't either."
Since her election to Congress in 2006, Bachmann has earned a reputation as one of the lower chamber's biggest bomb throwers. She has accused the president of harboring "anti-American" views, warned that census data could be used to round up dissenters into internment camps, and declared that the Treasury Department is quietly planning on replacing the dollar with a global currency. To her critics, Bachmann is flat-out crazy, a purveyor of, as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) put it, "psycho talk."
Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota, announced Sunday the end of his presidential candidacy.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty finished a very distant third in the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday. He canceled an appearance on Hannity shortly after that, and now we know why: He told ABC's Jake Tapper on Sunday morning that he's dropping out of the Republican presidential race.
The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweets that the lesson here is that presidential candidates should just skip the straw poll entirely if they don't think they can win (obviously, that was a successful strategy for Mitt Romney, who did not drop out this morning). But at some point, whether it's in Ames, or later on at the caucuses, candidates do have to hit the stump and court voters—and Pawlenty was a flop on that front.
Here's Pawlenty's announcement:
I saw the Pawlenty's problems up close on Wednesday when I watched him address a room of (mostly) undecided (mostly) senior citizens in Denison who were still smitten by Herman Cain's appearance two days earlier. The ex-governor sounded better on Friday at the Iowa State Fair when he was joined by his wife, Mary, but even then he drew maybe half as many folks as Michele Bachmann. Iowa voters followed the same logic John McCain did when he passed over T-Paw for the vice presidential slot in 2008: He's a safe bet and could "get it done" (to borrow a line from his stump speech), but you only get one vote, so why waste it? Bachmann captures today's conservative id in a way that Pawlenty never could, no matter how hard he tried.
Tim Pawlenty will be fine, though—he's finally free to grow another mullet. The real tragedy here has more to do with what Pawlenty did to position himself as a presidential candidate. Once he set his sights on the next level, he became a different kind of governor—doing a 180 on climate change and leaving a famed Arctic explorer out in the cold; denying gay couples hospital visitation rights; promising his support for an anti-bullying bill and then vetoing it. It's always tough to identify what politicians do for principle and what they do for their future prospects, but to the extent that ambition changed Pawlenty's politics, it was for the worse.