Bachmann's Campaign

June 13, 2011

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has been flirting with a presidential run for several months. On multiple occasions she has said she would announce whether she would run or not in June, and increasingly it seems she will run. Although only one president has gone straight from the U.S. House of Representatives to the White House (James Garfield in 1880), Bachmann is poised to launch her campaign and will participate in the Republican debate on CNN tonight. Last month, Bachmann suggested she feels called by God to run:

Well, every decision that I make I pray about as does my husband and I can tell you, yes, I've had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do.
Bachmann's ability to "talk the talk" for evangelicals will be critical for her in early key states like Iowa and South Carolina. At the recent conference of Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition (the photo is one I took of her speaking at that event), Bachmann ended her speech by leading those present in a long prayer (full of gestures). One of her potential opponents, Herman Cain, called the prayer "the ultimate pander." Yet, Bachmann and her prayer clearly resonated with the crowd of conservative Christian activists. An attendee at the conference said of Bachmann:
She comes from us, not to us. ... She speaks our code, and we believe her.
That "code" is part of what I examined in my new book Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics. Interestingly, Bachmann has mentioned that the individual who got her involved in presidential politics was Democrat Jimmy Carter. She worked on his campaign and attended his inaugural. Like many evangelicals, she was drawn to the born-again Sunday School teacher in 1976 but then later shifted to Ronald Reagan in 1980. I note other such evangelical leaders in my book, including televangelist and later Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson and Southern Baptist leader Bailey Smith. While Carter was able to use his God-talk to win over Bachmann and other evangelicals in 1976, he was out-God-talked by Reagan just four years later. Now, Bachmann speaks derisively of the first president she helped elect.

Bachmann's appeal to conservative evangelicals is likely not enough to carry her across the finish line for the Republican presidential nomination (and she would face even greater difficulty in the general election since she is a highly polarizing political figure). However, she could easily win a lot of votes and impact the Republican race. In particular, if she is able to win or at least be very competitive in Iowa, it could cause significant problems for the candidacy of Tim Pawlenty (see post here), as well as the candidacies of less-competitive candidates like Rick Santorum (see post here) and Newt Gingrich (see post here). Bachmann is already putting together a campaign staff that includes multiple people from Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign that won Iowa and several other states. Most notably, she has picked up Ed Rollins, who served as Huckabee's campaign manager (the photo is one I took of Rollins at Huckabee's victory rally the night of the Iowa caucuses in 2008). Mitt Romney, on the other hand, should be excited to see multiple candidates courting and perhaps splitting the conservative evangelical vote since he struggles with that constituency (see post here).

UPDATE [6-23-11]: Herman Cain has since said he "regrets" saying that Bachmann's prayer was "pandering."