Sarah Palin’s going through a pretty tough stretch as a national conservative icon. Her daughter didn’t win Dancing With the Stars. Her second book did not rocket to the top of best-seller lists. Her TV reality show isn’t getting renewed for a second year. Polls show her becoming even more unpopular among the national electorate, and showing some weakness among Republicans. And now she’s drawing heat, and not responding very well, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, thanks to her PAC’s adoption of a bullseye-targeting map last year that included Gabby Giffords’ district.
It would be foolish to underestimate Palin’s residual appeal to conservative activists, who may not want her to run for president but may also support her if she does so. But let’s say for the sake of argument she doesn’t run in 2012 (at 46 she is, after all, young enough to make the presidential prospect lists for the next five or six cycles). Does that mean the GOP presidential field for ’12 will be under less pressure to tilt hard right?
Not necessarily. For one thing, there’s a potential candidate out there, another woman as it happens, who makes Palin look like a milquetoast moderate: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Famous as a provocatively right-wing quote machine, and a particular favorite of religious conservatives, Bachmann has suddenly started making noises about entering the next-door Iowa Caucuses in 2012 (she’s an Iowa native, which never hurts).
Sure, House members almost never gain traction as presidential candidates, and Bachmann barely showed up in a new poll of likely 2012 caucus-goers (though the pollster suggested she had a significant upside if and when she’s taken seriously as a candidate). But as veteran Iowan Republican activist and blogger Craig Robinson pointed out, Bachmann has a couple of potential aces-in-the-hole:
[I]f Bachmann does run, she will have one thing that no other presidential candidate will have when campaigning in Iowa – the support of Iowa’s conservative standard-bearer, Congressman Steve King….
A Bachmann run would create a perfect storm in Iowa. Bachmann is already the darling of the Tea Party. Combine that with King’s statewide network of conservative in a caucus election and its bound to befuddle everyone in the beltway as well as her caucus opponents.
Another point to ponder is, what if Palin backs Bachmann’s campaign? Palin has already headlined a fundraising event for Bachmann last year. The event was a huge success, and Bachmann has proven herself to be an astute fundraiser. She raised $13.2 million in 2010. That’s as much as Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter raised for their 2008 presidential campaigns combined. It’s also almost as much as Huckabee raised for his campaign.
Bachmann’s very close relationship with King is a fact; he was one of the few supporters of her recent unsuccessful bid for a House GOP leadership post, and he’s apparently planning to squire her around Iowa during her upcoming temperature-taking trip to the state. They were also the original cosponsors of the “ObamaCare repeal” legislation.
If nothing else, you have to figure a Bachmann candidacy would be an ongoing nightmare for fellow-Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, whose vanilla personality would be constantly contrasted, poorly, with Bachmann’s crowd-pleasing fiery appeal.
The bottom line is that there’s a clear political opening in the 2012 campaign for a candidate who gets conservative activists all lathered up and snake-dancing to the Iowa Caucuses. Whether or not that candidate is Palin or Bachmann, someone will audition for the role. You can bet on it.