In the past few weeks we’ve seen the media scrambling to promote a cat fight between Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
As the UK’s Telegraph recently wrote:
The first shots have been fired in what could become an ugly battle between Sarah Palin and her potential rival Michele Bachmann for the Republican presidential nomination.
A Republican consultant who declined to be named because he is aligned with a rival camp, said: "The claws are out. It’s the cat fight everyone has been waiting for – Queen Sarah being taken on by the Palin mini-me."
This is all obviously designed to blunt Palin’s power and momentum. But could over-the-top tabloid coverage of two popular GOP women actually backfire and diminish establishment favorite Mitt Romney, instead of giving him the predicted edge?
Certainly a made-for-TV "girl brawl" between two outspoken Tea Party stars has at least the potential to overshadow Romney’s White House run, just as "Hillary vs. Barack" quickly eclipsed every other Democrat candidacy in 2008. In a cat fight scenario, Romney could suddenly become the mouse in the room — small, insignificant, and barely noticeable. It’s not like he can just suddenly grow ovaries (though we wouldn’t put it past him to try.)
If it plays out this way, Romney’s 2012 estrogen deficit would prove to be just the latest challenge for a man with well-documented "woman problems."
As The Atlantic’s Nicole Allan put it last year, Mitt Romney "does not know how to look good while competing with a woman."
How will he look competing against two women? Hmmm … I’m going to go out on a limb and predict it won’t be pretty if Romney’s past is any indicator.
Despite his high-profile endorsements of several women last year, let’s recall that Romney and the Massachussetts GOP establishment awkwardly forced out a popular female radio host who was running for Ted Kennedy’s seat in 1994, preventing her from even appearing on the Republican primary ballot so as to clear the way for Mitt. Next up was the first female Massachussets governor (Republican Jane Swift) in 2002, who once again, was driven off the primary ballot by Mitt and the state establishment GOP, as Mitt needed that office to pad his presidential resume. None of this went over particularly well with women, as you can imagine.
Romney again faced charges of chauvinism after participating in a male-candidate-only fundraiser in Arizona last fall, ditching the two female Congressional candidates, during a midterm election that was hailed as the "Year of the GOP Woman."
Compounding the misogyny index, his aides continue to make anonymous sexist comments about Gov. Palin, instead of challenging her on her record.
But in what has to be considered the most bizarre outbreak of Romney’s Woman Derangement Syndrome yet, he pretended to get groped during a photo-op with New Hampshire waitresses last month. Apparently, it was some warped attempt to "connect" with women voters. Fake sexual harrassment? How weird is that?
Yes, Romney may have a grand money-raising operation, and the best GOP consultants money can buy. But will he be able to break through the potentially historic candidacies of Palin and Bachmann and their attending media frenzies — without looking completely boorish in the process?
It’s doubtful he will have the political muscle to force both Palin and Bachmann out, since so many of us are so fed up with the GOP machine: We’re not going let them pre-select our candidate.
And contrary to the conventional "wisdom" of the GOP machine, Palin and Bachmann are not interchangeable. As Michele herself strangely and proudly stated the other day … "I’m no Sarah Palin clone." That’s right, Michele, you’re not. You have no executive experience, have never won a statewide office, have never run on a national ticket, nor balanced a $14 billion budget three times. Thanks for pointing it out. Oh, and you’ve never stared down Big Oil, signed the largest vetoes in your state’s history, nor had a conservative film maker ante up $1 million of his own money to document your political career.
While we’re at it, I’m pretty sure Governor Palin would never run for a seat in Congress, just to turn around and start campaigning for the presidency on the taxpayer dime six months later. She’s not wired that way. Moreover, unlike Bachmann who rejects the label, Governor Palin is a proud feminist, laying claim to the women’s movement begun by Republican stalwarts Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The truth is though they’re both attractive conservative women, there are big distinctions between Palin and Bachmann. They appeal to overlapping but not identical constituencies.
Contrary to popular thinking, Palin’s support transcends the social conservative evangelical base: she does have a big evangelical following, but she has also attracted conservative gays, minorities, libertarians, veterans, business owners, Catholics, Mormons and independent Democrats. (Remember all those Democrats for McCain in ’08 who were really Democrats for Palin?) Recall that Palin had an 88% approval rating governing Alaska, the least religious state in America where nearly two-thirds of the voters are unaffiliated with either party. In contrast, Bachmann was elected in a predominantly Republican district, and because she hasn’t won a statewide office, she has never proven her ability to attract right-leaning independents.
For Romney fans or anyone to suggest that Palin and Bachmann completely cancel each other out is ludicrous, especially given the die-hard nature of Palin’s support. Let’s not forget Palin’s potential base is much bigger than Bachmann’s. Sixty million voters already cast ballots for Palin once. How hard would it be to get 15 million or so to do it again to win a primary? The bigger question is whether Romney will be able to convince more than four million GOP primary voters (his 2008 total) to suddenly support the man who couldn’t beat McCain and who ultimately inspired Obamacare.
Ideally, and forgive me for saying this, but two opportunists like Bachmann and Romney might cancel each other out, leaving the rest of the votes for the true reformer in the race, Governor Palin. Let’s recall that Mitt has been called the GOP’s version of John Kerry. And, Bachmann, with her legislative-only resume, and gift for self-promotion, has been compared to Barack Obama. Sounds like those two will be fighting over the same electoral pie, if you ask me!
What cracks me up is that Bachmann is being propped up as the Palin alternative. From Fox, to CNN to MSNBC, so many commentators are suggesting that Bachmann is the “better version” of Palin. It begs the question … Why is no one contrasting Bachmann to Romney, the guy who is actually in the race, you know, the guy at the top of the leader board? Could it be that Palin is seen as the de facto front runner, the pink elephant in the room? Will this race be all about who is the "real Palin"? I relish that thought … because, obviously, there is only one REAL PALIN.
Deliciously, Romney may find himself fighting a two-front war for relevancy with Bachmann on the far-right, and Palin in the center-right: Two confident Tea Partiers, with committed constituencies, eating his (and Obama’s) lunch, every day, for the next nine months. While Bachmann is swatting him gently over abortion flip flops, Palin will be ferociously assaulting his fiscal positions on cap and tax and healthcare mandates. After positioning himself as the Reagan Republican in the last cycle, will he now morph into Rockefeller Romney in a year when the party is primed to lurch rightward? Or will he just resort to outright sexist attacks on the "two crazy women." That should go over really well with the electorate that sent a record 27 GOP women to Congress and governorships last year.
You may totally disagree with my gender-heavy assessment. That’s OK, I’m a former lefty and I don’t understand GOP politics all that well. In fact, I don’t really care to understand GOP politics all that well.
But from where I’m sitting … the faux frontrunner still has a woman problem.
And not even a fake pinch-in-the-butt can turn that around.