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Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, And Post-Debate Calculus

Nick Silver takes a look at how last night’s debate may have influenced the decision making process of two of the most prominent GOP holdouts:

The candidate to break news in this debate was Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who announced that she was running for president. And then she performed strongly throughout, exuding confidence, and turning her service in the House of Representatives from a potential liability (in a field that also includes governors and senators) into a strength (by emphasizing her active role in formulating policy on the major issues of the day).

The comparison between Ms. Bachmann and Sarah Palin is perhaps made too easily. But as I remarked on Twitter during the debate, if there is a constituency of voters trying to decide between the two, Ms. Bachmann has a lot to offer. She’s considerably sharper on her feet than Ms. Palin, and has more discipline. She does not have the baggage of “blood libel,” a reality show, or having prematurely quit her term as governor. Her family story — a mother to 23 foster children, as she frequently reminded us — is every bit as compelling. She has considerably better favorability ratings — Americans who are familiar with her split about evenly on whether they like her or not, which is not true for Ms. Palin. She has a geographic advantage in Iowa, has devoted more time to her presidential campaign and has a reputation as a strong fundraiser.

As I remarked myself this morning on Twitter, I personally have no doubt that if Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin were to share a debate stage that Bachmann would come across much better than the former Governor. Bachmann is a much better public speaker and, say whatever one might about her ideas, she is able to present them in a much more polished manner than Palin has ever been able to. While it’s unclear what Palin will do, the Bachmann camp has already been sending some none-too-subtle signals that they’re not going to concede anything to Palin if she gets in the race. First, there were the remarks by new Bachmann hire Ed Rollins that Palin was not a serious candidate. Then, there was this from Bachmann herself:

Ms. Bachmann is best known for her conservative activism on issues like abortion, but what I want to talk about today is economics. When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. “I’m also an Art Laffer fiend—we’re very close,” she adds. “And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,” getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like “Human Action” and “Bureaucracy.” “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

Consider that a subtle rejoinder to Palin’s disjointed response in 2008 to the seemingly simple question what do you read? As Ezra Klein noted yesterday, Michelle Bachmann is looking like the candidate that Sarah Palin was supposed to be:

Whatever it is that a tea partyer might not like about Palin, Bachmann’s got that covered, too. Want a candidate who can rattle off her reading list without embarrassing the ticket? “When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. ‘I’m also an Art Laffer fiend — we’re very close,’ she adds. ‘And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,’ getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like ‘Human Action’ and ‘Bureaucracy.’ ‘When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.'” Want a true believer who seems interested in winning the election rather than just carrying the torch? “We’ve got a huge messaging problem [on Medicare]. It needs to be called the 55-and-Under Plan. I can’t tell you the number of 78-year-old women who think we’re going to pull the rug out from under them.”

Bachmann is a better politician than Palin, a better policy wonk than Palin, and because she’s a better politician and a better policy wonk than Palin, she’s actually able to be a bit more extreme than Palin, as Palin rarely gets specific enough to do such precise ideological positioning. Put simply, Bachmann is the candidate Palin was supposed to be.

Palin may have the Palinistas behind her, but Bachmann has more of the Tea Party and, if the two of them were to go head-to-head I think Palin might find herself shocked.

While Palin must contemplate taking on Michele Bachmann, though, Texas Governor Rick Perry may well have looked at last night’s debate and seen an opportunity:

Mr. Perry — although he has some vulnerabilities — could potentially fulfill William F. Buckley’s commandment to Republicans: nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable.

Right now, that role is probably filled by Tim Pawlenty — candidates like Mitt Romney (who performed quite strongly tonight) and Jon Huntsman are too moderate for some in the G.O.P. base, while those like Ms. Bachmann and Ms. Palin and Newt Gingrich may not be viewed as electable. If Mr. Perry was watching the debate tonight, he ought to have been most interested in Mr. Pawlenty’s performance.

And Mr. Pawlenty missed a major opportunity when he declined — after repeated prodding by the moderator John King — to critique Mr. Romney’s health care bill, despite having referred to it as “Obamneycare” just a day before. For a candidate who is relying more on sound tactics and positioning than any inherent personal strengths, it was an awfully strange decision — Mr. Pawlenty gets a lot of mileage out of being the “anti-Romney” candidate.

There were many establishment conservatives who, after Mitch Daniels decided not to run, were looking to Tim Pawlenty as the guy who could potentially challenge Mitt Romney most effectively. Last night, he failed to do so despite being given two opportunities and that is likely to lead to an increase in the calls of those who’d like to see Perry get into the race. Now, of course, Perry himself may prove to be a bad candidate, but Pawlenty isn’t going to be given many more chances before the powers-that-be decide he’s through and get behind another horse.  If he isn’t going to fight for the nomination, then why should the donors give him money? And, without money, he won’t have much of a campaign.

Perry and Palin may end up basing their decisions on factors having nothing to do with last night’s debate, but you can rest assured they were watching it closely.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. jwest says:

    And just a few weeks ago, Bachmann was “crazy” and a “joke”.

    Things sure do change fast.

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  2. hey norm says:

    I find it interesting to consider that for Bachmann, Palin was a spectre that was always out there. But for Palin, Bachmann’s canidacy must seem almost insurgent. Given Palin’s insecurity, victim complex, and vindictiveness, this could get very fun to watch. Cat Fight!!!
    I hope Perry gets in. A discussion about the United States resembling Perry’s Texas would be fascinating.
    What really gives so-called republicans a hard-on about Perry is that Texas is 49th in per-capita tax rate.
    Predictably the budget deficit in Texas is expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next 2 years.
    Texas also has attrocious air quality, the highest number of uninsured children, and they are cutting $4B from what was a mediocre public school system to begin with. Texas ranks 36th in H.S. graduation rates. 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma. They rank something like 47th in SAT scores.
    So – an extremely low tax, business friendly atmosphere and a $25 billion shortfall that is being taken out of state provided services.
    Is this what we want America to look like? Apparently the so-called republicans do.

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  3. Smooth Jazz says:

    “Nick Silver takes a look at how last night’s debate may have influenced the decision making process of two of the most prominent GOP holdouts:”

    Oh, isn’t that just grand: One left of center blogger (Doug M) quoting 2 left wing zealots (Nate Silver & Ezra Klein) on Gov Palin’s prospects. Dude, take your green eye shades off for a second and consider this pertinent fact: You are baised against Gov Palin, with an acute case of PDS, so neither you, of leftists at the NY Times or Wash Post, are qualified to opine on whether her or Michelle Bachman would make the better candidate. I say let the voters decide, not left wing bloggers tethered to the elitist Beltway crowd.

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  4. Hey Norm says:

    Smooth jazz
    The voters decided…palin lost. Then she quit.

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  5. mattb says:

    And just a few weeks ago, Bachmann was “crazy” and a “joke”.

    Things sure do change fast.

    They do. Especially based on a strong performance versus a weak field. She hit a lot of smart notes last night. She might not be great on policy, but she was far more coherent and direct than Palin was for most of 2008 (and definitely since then).

    She also did some of the best *shot in the arm* party cheerleading on stage. And, it also helps that from a party perspective, she’s been on the “right” side of all of these issues (very publicly) during her time in Congress. And again, being a Congressperson has allowed her to take far more extreme (and “clean”) positions on topics than the more historically pragmatic Palin.

    I don’t think she’s going to be the nomination, but she may take over Palin’s position as a political/media power browker AND perhaps even a Veep candidate (I do think the Republicans would love to land the first Woman VP).

    Which leads to an interesting question: given the current climate, are representatives actually better positioned to campaign on purity than governors? The very nature of party politics — and that on many issues, especially the traditionally big ones* — a single vote (even in the Senate) really doesn’t count for much. So Backmann can always take an extreme position pretty safely (including opposing past Republican dogma — like the first TARP vote).

    * – Excluding health care and the current debt ceiling debates.

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  6. Trumwill says:

    Which leads to an interesting question: given the current climate, are representatives actually better positioned to campaign on purity than governors?

    It’s an interesting question. Historically, we’ve favored governors over legislators, but maybe that’s due for a change. Even in the Senate, it’s easier for them to take stands that they wouldn’t if they actually had to govern (as with Obama and the debt ceiling).

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  7. mantis says:

    neither you, of leftists at the NY Times or Wash Post, are qualified to opine on whether her or Michelle Bachman would make the better candidate. I say let the voters decide, not left wing bloggers tethered to the elitist Beltway crowd.

    Umm, Kenny, nobody is proposing that the primary or election be decided on blogger opinions instead of votes. But way to take a brave stand there. The voters are thankful you have righteously defended their franchise from the evil plot you imagine exists.

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  8. mantis says:

    Oh by the way, Kenny, if your basic position is “You shouldn’t have an opinion because I don’t like you,” maybe the internet isn’t the right place for you.

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  9. mattb says:

    It’s an interesting question. Historically, we’ve favored governors over legislators, but maybe that’s due for a change. Even in the Senate, it’s easier for them to take stands that they wouldn’t if they actually had to govern (as with Obama and the debt ceiling).

    My point exactly. Again, I think this was part of the pramatics of Palin’s decision to leave the Governorship — as was seen with her somewhat contradictory stance on taking bailout money, its exceedingly difficult for someone to be an effective Governor AND stay pure in terms of rhetoric. Once one’s “marketing” becomes largely based on iconic purity, that becomes a huge problem. And as we all know (and has been said by many Conservative commentators and pundits — including commenters here) — the “real” conservative on the 2008 ticket was Palin.

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  10. Terrye says:

    Bachmann really is a better politician than Palin. I think she is very likable as well. But I think her foreign policy stances are naive.

    The one problem I had with Bachmann and really with all of the candidates is their refusal to not only support TARP but come up with a rational alternative. I think TARP worked, and it paid for itself as well. The stimulus and the auto bail outs were a waste of resources, but TARP actually did what it was supposed to do.

    And if the candidates decide they do not support it, then what would they have done instead? Robert J. Samuelson is no liberal and he says that unemployment would be 13 or 14% if not for TARP…would people be happier with that? I doubt it.

    I think that the base just believes all government intrusion is a bad thing…just the Democratic base believes that there are no problems that can not be solved with higher taxes for the rich…but in reality, Bush got the message that we had a limited time to stop a collapse..so I don’t think any president under those circumstances would just say, let it collapse. Not even Bachmann.

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  11. jwest says:

    Between reading Mattb and Terrye, I’m left totally confused.

    Bachmann is about 50 times more conservative than Palin. Palin’s entire record, from small town mayor to governor, is a model of bipartisan moderation, but somehow the discussion is about “purity”?

    I honestly don’t know what you two are talking about.

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  12. An Interested Party says:

    Palin’s entire record, from small town mayor to governor, is a model of bipartisan moderation…

    A pity that moderation only seemed to occur when she actually held office, but not since she’s decided to become a celebrity…

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  13. mattb says:

    Bachmann is about 50 times more conservative than Palin. Palin’s entire record, from small town mayor to governor, is a model of bipartisan moderation, but somehow the discussion is about “purity”?

    I honestly don’t know what you two are talking about.

    That’s because you don’t seem not interested in reading what others have written. In multiple discussions that you have participated in, I’ve made my stance crystal clear on this issue:

    There are two Sarah Palin(s) — The woman who governed Alaska and the woman who campaigned for VP in 2008. If you honestly look at the creation of VP Candidate Palin you would see how she reinvented herself as a “Pure/Real” conservative.

    To be fair it wasn’t entirely her. It was also the work of the Pundits who brought her to McCain’s attention (in particular Krauthammer and Crystal) and then the talkers who reinforced the myth (Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, and the rest).

    The thing is that Palin embraced and ran with this image. And candidate Palin reinvented herself on the basis of her ideological purity and her being a representative of all of the values of “Fly Over Country” aka “The Real America.” And that image was the polar opposite of the “bi-partisanship” of her governorship. In fact, the only time she really talked about being bi-partisan was in terms of bringing the opposite side over to conservative values.

    I should note that it’s important to differentiate here between party (Republican) and ideology (Conservative) – as Palin’s initial fame in right wing media (in this case Glenn Beck was someone who got to the story early) was her “standing up” to the Alaskan Republican party. But again, that stance was taken because she was a true “conservative” (and most talkers and pundits identify themselves as Conservative first and Republican second).

    Palin is “bi-partisan” in the same way the tea-party is.

    And this is again ONE (not the only one) of the reasons she most likely left the Governorship — is that the generally moderate and pragmatic Governor Palin could not live up to the image of the “REAL CONSERVATIVE” Candidate Palin. And, her national power and prestige was based on being the latter. Again, this begins almost immediately with the media (including conservative media) fallout around her position on TARP.

    So, just to spell it out again, Palin’s myth was built-up IN SPITE OF not BECAUSE of her bi-partisanship. And if you honestly believe anything to the contrary, then you have not been paying attention to any right wing (note not left wing — I’m talking Fox News, bloggers and radio talkers) media discussions about her or even her own rhetoric since August of 2008.

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  14. anjin-san says:

    And just a few weeks ago, Bachmann was “crazy” and a “joke”.

    Well, she still is. But she is a pro, and Palin is not, and it is obvious to everyone.

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  15. anjin-san says:

    The stimulus and the auto bail outs were a waste of resources

    Well, the US auto industry still exists, a lot of jobs were saved, and there are two critical and many lesser infrastructure projects being funded by stimulus $$ where I live.

    But I forget, Republicans only want US taxpayer dollars to pay for infrastructure in Iraq. Not America. Country first indeed. Just the wrong one.

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