Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bachmann, Palin, Overdrive

Bachmann and Palin. The very prospects of both entering the presidential race have created a frenzy. Both are media magnets and savvy in the art of attracting attention. But how do we assess them as presidential candidates within the GOP field and, if either to emerge as a nominee, as a potential candidate against Obama?

I discussed this issue on Fox 9 News recently . Look at the video in addition to my analysis below.

Outsiders within the GOP

The simple way to describe Bachmann and Palin is that both are outsiders within the Republican Party who draw their strengths from very similar sources. Both candidates have clear messages about taxes, limited government, and social conservatism that appeal to the Tea party wing of the GOP. Thus both have something that Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and perhaps even Mitt Romney lack—a clearly identified voice or political narrative that definitely appeals to an energetic base of the Republican Party. This linkage of a voice to a constituency is critical because it means that both of these candidates have a capacity to mobilize an identifiable portion of the party. When it comes to Iowa for example, a state all about caucuses and grassroots organizing, the ability to appeal to a specific and highly energetic constituency is very important, especially for Bachmann.

Comparing Bachmann to Palin

Bachmann and Palin share other affinities. Both are terrific at fund-raising. Palin is a major draw on the speaking circuit and since leaving the vice-presidential race she has branded herself and daughter Bristol into a Paris Hilton like commodities that has made her millions. Palin is an industry and can raise money, perhaps even for a presidency. Not as well known as Palin, Bachmann has proven to be a powerful fundraiser–garnering $20 million plus for her Congressional campaign last year and reportedly with more than $2.5 million already for her potential presidential bid. Moreover, each has a propensity to say the outrageous–Bachmann in declaring the constitutional framers as having freed the slaves, Palin in her take no prisoners campaign rhetoric. Both have been recurrently featured on Fox and MSNBC, pandered before conservative and liberal audiences as Nielsen ratings enhancers.

There is no question though that Palin is the better know of the two candidates. Right now she is near the top of the GOP polls and her bus tour is gathering a lot of attention. Were Palin to run she would start off strong, even if she were to skip Iowa.

Bachmann’s is truly an Iowa strategy. From Waterloo, she hopes to mobilize her roots and appeal to a Tea party constituency (and discontent with other GOP candidates). It is not inconceivable that she could get 20% of the caucus attendees, thereby pushing her to the front of presidential contenders. This is possible but for Palin.

Palin and Bachmann draw strength from the same part of the party. Should both enter they potentially split their support and the Tea Party wing. This sets up some interesting dynamics. First, if both run, does their conservatism force the rest of the GOP further to the right or do they concede it to them and battle for whatever one calls the more moderate wing of the party? Even if only one of the two runs, the same question can be asked. But if both run the potential of a split complicates strategies for all of the field in terms of appeal to their base, ignore, move to the right or more centrist.

Their Negatives

But as much as there are strengths are parallels to Palin and Bachmann, both face liabilities. Both are outsiders in the party. Palin likes her rogue persona and Bachmann has constantly upstaged the GOP in terms of stealing the light from Paul Ryan and the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union speech. Then there is their political rhetoric–nothing moderate here for either. How they can broaden their appeal beyond the Tea Party within the GOP is a mystery, let along to the swing voters in a general election will be difficult.

Palin has two additional problems. She is well known (a plus) but also has astronomical negatives. Carrying over from the 2008 VP bid, over 60% view her as unqualified to be president. She did herself no favors in her self-absorbed response to the representative Giffords shooting. Second, she has little in terms of a presidential infrastructure that can help her in Iowa or other early states and having alienated many in the GOP establishment, she is damaged goods in many ways.

Bachmann too has alienated the GOP establishment but she is not as well known nationally and therefore does not appear to have the same negatives as Palin. People have not made up their mind about her since she is not as well known. Unlike Palin, Bachmann has a chance to define and make her image and create a narrative. Palin is already done. She has no real potential for growth and makeover–perhaps by choice. Her brand and persona are fixed. Finally, Bachmann is working Iowa and seeking to build an infrastructure, Palin really is not.

Final Thoughts

Overall, assessing the two, while Palin is better known Bachmann has more room to grow as a potential GOP presidential candidate. But of course, both many stand in each other’s way, competing for money, voters, and a slice of media coverage. Because of their similarity, don’t look for the Tea Party dream ticket of the two running together. This is a ticket that would appeal to 25% of the general election electorate–giving Obama a major victory.

No doubt we have not heard the last of Bachmann and Palin. “You ain’t seen nothing yet” as BTO once sung.

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