So Michelle Bachmann apparently is running for president. CNN reports today her intention to form a presidential exploratory committee in early June.
"She’s been telling everyone early summer," the source told CNN regarding Bachmann’s planned June filing and announcement. … CNN plans a GOP presidential primary debate in New Hampshire in early June. Meanwhile, CNN has also learned that Iowa Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson will likely be hired to be Bachmann’s political director for the state – and that Bachmann aides hope to have a complete team together for Iowa by this weekend. Sorenson is a prominent Tea Party figure in Iowa and holds sway with evangelicals in the state. … The three-term congresswoman and Tea Party favorite hopes to also have political teams in place – very soon – in New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and South Carolina, host of the first presidential primary in the South. "I could have state directors in all those states within a week," Bachmann Chief of Staff Andy Parrish said.
Bachmann is hosting a Facebook townhall from Iowa today at 5 p.m. ET where presumably she’ll be answering questions about her potential run.
Where does that leave us Palinistas? Does this telegraph anything about Gov. Palin’s presidential intentions? We’ve known for weeks, if not longer, that a Bachmann run was a strong possibility. Sources on the ground in the early primary states have been sharing this fact with us. Palinistas have reacted in a variety of ways. Some idealistically hope that Bachmann — an ideological soul sister — is "setting the table" for a later Palin announcement. Others have reacted more realistically or with outright disdain, claiming Bachmann, a relative unknown outside the Tea Party, is stabbing Palin in the back, possibly splitting the Tea Party vote, and playing spoiler for the benefit of an establishment Republican.
Here’s what I think … Bachmann’s run doesn’t really have a dire impact on Palin one way or another. In fact, it could actually prove beneficial. Several of us on the C4P team are in agreement.
Let’s assume, first of all, that Gov. Palin decides to run. And, most of us believe she is too competitive to sit this out.
If Palin runs, that says right there that she doesn’t believe Bachmann has the requisite experience or that she can win. (If Sarah chooses not to run, and to endorse Bachmann, then we’ll know that she believes Bachmann can best advance the conservative Tea Party cause and win the White House). Either way, it’s a win-win, because Palin will only enter the race if she believes she can win. And she will endorse Bachmann (or another candidate) if she believes they have the best chance.
Secondly, we have to see the big picture of what a Bachmann candidacy could do for the presidential election cycle. We have no way of knowing how long Bachmann could stay in the race. She has shown herself to be a prodigous fundraiser, having raised more than $10 million for her 2010 re-election. Still, she has little name recognition nationally. How would her presence in the early primary states affect the race that includes Palin and possibly a dozen more Republican candidates?
1. It takes away the gender novelty factor. Personally, I think it’s a blessing to have another strong conservative woman in the race. Can you imagine if Obama had to face off in ’08 against another strong black candidate in the Democrat primaries? It might have blunted the race card he was able to successfully deploy against Hillary, and shown him to be little more than an inexperienced, smooth-talking community organizer. With Bachmann AND Palin in the race, the election becomes about ideas, not identity politics. This is good for the GOP, good for Governor Palin, and good for the country. Palin, rightly, is viewed heroically, by many as the first woman VP candidate for the Republican party. But to win the nomination outright, she will have to demonstrate that her gender is a bonus, not her exclusive claim to fame (as race was with Obama).
2. It shifts the political center of gravity to the right. Having Michelle Bachmann in the race will expose the RINOS for being very liberal. It might even make them look more liberal than they really are. Bachmann will not be shy about attacking Obama on everything from healthcare to cap and trade and fiscal insanity. Her aggressive push for Tea Party ideals makes it very difficult for the RINOs to hide. They will be looking down a double-barreled shotgun: Palin and Bachmann. They will not be able to avoid talking about their liberal records.
3. It gives Palin an opening to run as a mainstream conservative. The establishment candidates have long been hoping to cast Palin as a far-right wingnut who can’t possibly attract moderates or independents. Ironically, however, polls show that Palin IS attracting support from independent-leaning Republicans. Even the most recent CNN poll showed that Donald Trump and Sarah Palin share some voter demographics. Imagine that! Facing off against Bachmann will give Palin a chance to further burnish herself as an independent-minded conservative, palatable to a wide range of voters who are seeking Constitutional common sense. She also can contrast her executive experience against Bachmann’s experience as a legislator, highlighting decisions she made for the benefit of her state.
4. Competition is healthy. The worst thing we can do is to start bashing Bachmann (or Huckabee) for potentially entering the race when that is precisely what the establishment has been doing to Gov. Palin. There is absolutely nothing to fear from healthy debate. As Governor Palin has said herself on many occasions, contested primaries force candidates to work harder, to articulate their ideas more clearly, and to differentiate themselves from their competition. I don’t know why Bachmann is running. I don’t have any inside information. I can only speculate that she doesn’t want the Tea Party to be left without representation in the race. Won’t it be interesting to hear at least two strong candidates articulating fiscally conservative ideas on the primetime stage? Moreover, it can only help Palin in the end, if she lays out her vision and experience, contrasted against a strong field of candidates, and emerges victorious. You gotta beat the best to be the best.
Bottomline: It’s all good, Palinistas. Let’s focus on Obama, not our intramural battles. Gov. Palin has shown in the past that a crowded field is no insurmountable obstacle for her.
Update: An earlier version of this post contained an error. I meant to write that Gov. Palin would be able to position as a "mainstream conservative" not a "moderate conservative." Some of you noticed and correctly noted that Palin would not likely move to the center. I just wanted to correct the characterization. I think Palin looks more mainstream next to someone like Bachmann, a hardline conservative. Sorry for the mistake.