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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bachmann and Paul Call the Shots

The drama underway in Washington over the tentative “deal” to increase the debt limit just one day before the deadline announced by the Treasury Department is gripping enough, with white-knuckle votes in both chambers on tap. But the “debate” is also taking place in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Austin, and other places where actual or potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates happen to be this week.
Prior to the “deal,” every 2012er other than going-nowhere Jon Hunstman (and including likely candidate Rick Perry) had signed onto the “cut, cap and balance pledge” that foreswore support for any debt limit increase that was not accompanied by the rather exacting measures in the pledge (big immediate spending cuts, a cap on domestic spending linked to a fixed percentage of GDP, and a balanced budget amendment including both percentage-of-GDP limit and a supermajority requirement for tax increases by Congress). During the end-game negotiations in Congress, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain and Rick Perry all periodically warned Republicans not to vote for a deal that violated that pledge. Bachmann and T-Paw specifically attacked John Boehner’s proposal that passed the House over the weekend.
Now that the “deal” is out there, Bachmann and Paul have already announced they will vote against it; Romney announced today that he was opposed to it; and Pawlenty and Perry have made hostile noises without, so far, taking a definitive position (since Cain has systematically opposed debt limit increases on principle, his position can be stipulated as pre-established).
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the presidentials will have any impact at all on how Republicans vote in Congress. But it’s pretty clear their interests are aligned with those senators and representatives whose votes are largely dictated by the fear of being “primaried.” And more generally, it’s interesting that supposedly mainstream Establishment figures like Mitt Romney are being herded in the direction of irresponsible extremism set by Bachmann and Paul, who, until very recently, were considered noisy but inconsequential fringe figures in the House Republican Caucus.
Meanwhile, the candidate beloved of the Beltway Establishment who himself has become little more than a “fringe figure” in the GOP, former Gov. Huntsman, is now dismissing Bachmann’s influence as the result of her physical appearance. As Josh Marshall put it: “The new and brass-knucklier Jon Huntsman suggests Michele Bachmann gets so much press because she’s hot.”

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