With Huckabee Out, Bachmann More Likely To Run For POTUS, And That Helps Romney
With Huckabee out, the right side of the GOP primary base may end up divided. And that will help Mitt Romney.
Mike Huckabee’s decision to sit out the 2012 race makes it more likely that Michele Bachmann will jump into the race, according to those closest to her:
Senior insiders to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann say the Republican founder of the House Tea Party caucus is now very likely to run for president.
In the wake of both Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump opting out of the 2012 race, calls to Bachmann’s offices “have been burning up our lines” according to a Bachmann confidant who marveled, “one guy called her our Margaret Thatcher!”
Bachmann has said before that she will likely make a decision by June. She unveiled a new website design Monday that highlights Team Bachmann rather than Congresswoman Bachmann.
In addition to encouragement by phone and email, supporters are also pledging money, according to the insider.
Frankly I’m not sure what Bachmann is thinking here, for the same reasons that Allahpundit puts forward:
What’s in it for Bachmann? Why would she want to torpedo Pawlenty, whose only chance at the nomination likely requires winning Iowa? Yeah, they’re Minnesota “rivals,” but there’s no bitterness between them that I know of the way there was between Huckabee and Romney. My best guess is that it’s not about Pawlenty (or Palin) at all but about using a win in Iowa to boost her standing on the Hill, where the caucus often seems to treat her as a distraction. Three years ago, Huckabee was just some guy who’d governed Arkansas after Clinton; three years later, after winning Iowa, he’s poised to play social conservative kingmaker. Bachmann’s not going to win the nomination but she doesn’t need to in order to become a national figure.
Additionally, I think it’s rather naive to assume that Bachmann would be the sole, or even the major, beneficiary from Huckabee’s exist. As I noted on Sunday, there are a host of candidates that appeal to his base of evangelical social conservatives (Cain, Santorum, and Pawlenty for example) and the idea that they are all going to unite behind one candidate strikes me as just wishful thinking.
Besides, I tend to agree with Ramesh Ponnuru that the biggest beneficiary here may be Mitt Romney:
Like Bob Dole in 1996 or John McCain in 2008, Romney is an establishment-oriented candidate with serious vulnerabilities on his right flank. To get the nomination, he needs (as they needed) to prevent the emergence of a single candidate to his right. So Dole made a tactical alliance with Pat Buchanan in Lousiana, helping to eject from the race the one candidate who could theoretically have denied him the nomination by consolidating voters to his right: Phil Gramm. McCain made a tactical alliance with Mike Huckabee against the candidate against whom both of them were competing and whom both of them hated: Romney.
Which candidate does Romney most need to worry about? In my view, it’s Tim Pawlenty. He can run to Romney’s right, but with establishment support, in a way that I don’t think Daniels or Huntsman can or want to.
The candidate who could play the Buchanan/Huckabee role this time is Michele Bachmann. Like her ’96 and ’08 counterparts, she cannot win the nomination but can prevent anyone to the establishment candidate’s right from getting it either. (I think she has greater potential strength in the primaries than Santorum, but if he took off he could play the same role.) So watch for Romney to start making a lot of positive comments about Bachmann.
I don’t believe Romney could win a Romney-Pawlenty contest. But he would almost certainly win a Romney-Bachmann race, and could well win a Romney-Pawlenty-Bachmann race. So to the extent he can boost her, it makes sense for him to do so. Having been on the losing end of this maneuver, Romney, I assume, knows how it’s done.
I tend to think that Ponnuru is underestimating Daniels and overestimating Pawlenty, but his overall point remains the same. The biggest threat to Romney at this point is a candidate that the right side of the party unites behind. With Huckabee out, that threat is significantly diminished.