The Bachmann conspiracy

Midway through the first debate, I got an email from a reporter. “What do you think of Michele Bachmann’s performance?” she asked. I missed the first portion of the debate because I was putting my son to bed, so I replied, “What do you think?” She told me, “Frankly, I think she is kicking butt.”

I was astounded. I immediately tuned in, and I watched closely. Bachmann held her own, but she was no Rory McIlroy.  She didn’t completely embarrass herself, but in my mind, she didn’t suddenly reinvent herself to become presidential material.

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The next day, the press reaction was universal. Bachmann and Mitt Romney were the winners, while Tim Pawlenty was the big loser. Immediately, the pundits were declaring Bachmann a serious presidential contender, one who would probably win Iowa and would surely contend in South Carolina. Pawlenty was toast.

But how could Michele Bachmann suddenly become a serious presidential contender? Certainly she has become a ubiquitous presence on cable news, but she has no executive experience to speak of, no deep congressional experience, no notable accomplishments.  She hasn’t shown herself to have any policy depth, nor any historical perspective, nor any really good ideas about how to move the country forward. She is attractive, undoubtedly, and she has mastered the art of the sound bite, but in this complex and increasingly dangerous world, a serious presidential contender must have more to offer than good looks and a sharp tongue. 

And that’s when it dawned on me.  The Bachmann campaign was born of a conspiracy. Not a formal conspiracy like the Trilateral Commission, but a more informal one, born of mutual interests and rank opportunism.

And who are the most active members of this conspiracy?

Well, first and foremost, there is the media. With the decline and fall of Sarah Palin, the lamestream media (as the former Alaska governor dubbed it), the talking heads need a new GOP star. The qualifications are as follows: attractive woman (drives ratings up). Propensity to make outlandish comments about President Obama (ditto). Must be on the far right of the political spectrum. Must spend the majority of time beating up the Republican Party.  Must be very light on policy experience.  

Bachmann is the perfect candidate for a left-leaning media that did so much to get Obama elected in 2008. 

But the media has some co-conspirators. The Romney campaign has to be absolutely delighted by the rise of Michele Bachmann. If she becomes the leader of the anti-Romney faction of the party, then the former Massachusetts governor should have no trouble getting nominated. Pawlenty could have proven to be problematic. Jon Huntsman could have been a real threat. But Michele Bachmann? The GOP hasn’t gone that far off the edge.

House Republicans must also be complicit. Almost every member I talk to — and they shall remain nameless — would be more than happy to see Bachmann pursue other career interests. When they go home, they have to either explain why Bachmann said this or that or, worse, they have to explain why they aren’t more like her. House Republicans are cheering her on because they want her to move on. 

And finally, there is the Obama campaign. They secretly love Michele Bachmann and they hope against hope that she gets the nomination. They know it won’t happen, but they love her anyway. The more she attacks, the more famous she gets, the more she becomes the face of the party, and the better it is for Democrats and for the president. Bachmann drives independent voters to them and drives independent voters away from the GOP. Obama knows this and loves her for it.

You can tell that this is a real conspiracy because Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s new campaign manager, is involved. Rollins is perhaps best-known for helping lend some sorely needed credibility to the Ross Perot campaign in 1992, a third-party insurgency that brought the country Bill Clinton. 

I could be wrong, and maybe there is no conspiracy involved. Perhaps Michele Bachmann will surprise me, win the nomination and then become a great president. Perhaps Ed Rollins isn’t just doing this for the money, but because he thinks she really would make a great president. Perhaps the media is playing this straight.  Perhaps the Democrats are scared of her, and perhaps we really need someone in the Oval Office who has no executive experience but can speak well in 140 characters or less. 

Perhaps, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.