Michele Bachmann to South Carolina: insane lady one step closer to a presidential run

It seems that every single loon is coming out of the woodwork. After a trip to Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), legitimate crazy person, is taking a trip to another early primary state, South Carolina, fuelling yet more speculation about a 2012 bid:

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, will travel to the early primary state of South Carolina later this month as she mulls a possible White House bid in 2012, CNN has learned…

“She is obviously exploring her options and seeing what’s out there,” [Spartanburg County Republican Party Chairwoman LaDonna Ryggs] Ryggs told CNN.

It will be Bachmann’s second trip to a key presidential nominating state this year. In January, she traveled to Iowa to headline an Iowans For Tax Relief event and met with top GOP officials in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

You may laugh when I suggest that Michele Bachmann is a nut. But she is – far worse than Sarah Palin, whom I regard more as a cynical purveyor of ready-made conservative soundbites. Witness some of her best quotes:

“I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another, then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

“I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?”

“Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.”

She’s a paranoid fruitloop. Basically, she’s a male Steven Colbert, if Colbert weren’t a joke. I’m surprised she’s not also scared of how bears are destroying America. And while it’d be fun to watch her run – and even more fun if both she and Sarah Palin ran – it’d force everyone else at the republican debates to act just a little more crazy than they otherwise would, so as not to appear too moderate.

It’d be good TV, though. Did anyone watch her rebuttal of President Obama’s State of the Union speech? If not, here it is:

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Jim DeMint running for president?

No, he hasn’t officially declared yet. But he has stopped denying he’s interested, which is a sign that the conservative firebrand and junior republican senator from South Carolina may well be thinking about a bid:

News that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint will travel to Iowa on March 26 to address a conservative forum organized by Rep. Steve King is sparking another round of chatter that DeMint might launch a dark horse bid for the White House in 2012.

The Republican gadfly has been adamant in denying such intentions for more than a year – just Wednesday, he gave CNN’s Wolf Blitzer a flat “No” when asked if he plans to seek his party’s presidential nomination. But the ground may be shifting in DeMint-world, and several of his closest advisers and political confidantes are now telling CNN that he is at least open to a presidential bid if a suitably conservative candidate fails to emerge from the early and wide-open GOP field.

“I think that you can read into it that he sees he has a role in the process and he sees he hasn’t completely shut the door,” said one DeMint adviser asked about the Iowa foray. DeMint currently sees his role in the 2012 process, the adviser said, as “setting the bar high” for the presidential contenders when it comes to advocating for a small government agenda.

“He hasn’t completely shut the door on running, and if there was a situation where there is a massive void in the group of candidates, who knows what would happen?,” said the adviser, who was quick to caution that there is only a five percent chance his boss will run.

Aside from Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who is currently deciding between a presidential run and a gubernatorial bid in his home state, DeMint’s advisers are having a difficult time envisioning a candidate that he could get behind.

That could be a game-changer. The thing that people don’t realise about Jim DeMint is that he’s an extremely intelligent, polished politician. He’s perhaps further to the right than Sarah Palin, but he’s respected as much as he is feared because he’s actually a great media performer who can talk a good game without coming off as phoney – and do the folksy thing without sounding stupid. He’s loved on the right-wing blogosphere, and yet people don’t have the same negative image of him that they do of Michele Bachmann or other tea partiers. I still think that he’s probably looking more at the VP spot, possibly as either conservative cover for a more moderate candidate like Mitt Romney, or as an experienced figure (a sort of ‘Dick Cheney’) to balance out a presidential ticket topped by a policy lightweight like Sarah Palin. But he’d be one of the most formidable opponents for President Obama in 2012, mobilising the conservative base without turning off moderates. He should be feared, not laughed at.

New Hampshire straw poll: Romney wins an impressive victory

The New Hampshire Republican Party met today to pick a new chair (choosing a Tea Party favourite over the establishment pick endorsed by outgoing party chairman and former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu), but also to participate in the first presidential straw poll of the season. For those of you who don’t know what a straw poll is, it’s a sort of mock election held by activists, generally to determine which candidates are and aren’t viable within their particular interest group or political community. The CPAC straw poll, as well as the Ames, Iowa, contest (to be held on August 13 this year) are traditionally seen as early indications of who the conservative base is and isn’t enthusiastic about in the presidential field. Last time around, at the 2007 Ames straw poll, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s strong second place finish behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave the former a major boost – Huckabee went on to win the Iowa caucuses, and do well in subsequent contests.

This early New Hampshire face-off was clearly won by Mitt Romney, with Ron Paul placing second:

The leaders of the New Hampshire Republican Party have spoken, and they have given Mitt Romney the early presidential lead in the Granite State. In the first-of-its-kind straw poll of members of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, Romney drew 35% of the total vote. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came in second with 11%.

The straw poll was conducted in Derry, NH and was sponsored by ABC News and WMUR-TV…

The top 10 results from the straw poll are below. For the complete totals, see WMUR’s website:

  • Mitt Romney 35.14%
  • Ron Paul 10.51%
  • Tim Pawlenty 7.61%
  • Sarah Palin 6.88%
  • Michele Bachmann 5.07%
  • Jim DeMint 5.07%
  • Herman Cain 3.99%
  • Chris Christie 3.26%
  • Rick Santorum 3.26%
  • Mitch Daniels 2.90%

What this clearly shows is that, for the moment at least, Mitt Romney is way out in front, with everyone else way, way behind. He’s the establishment candidate. Ron Paul’s viability in this libertarian-leaning state, while a sign 0f Paul’s enduring appeal to a portion of the conservative electorate, can probably not be generalised nationwide – Iowa republicans, for example, lean evangelical, while lacking the same extreme anti-government views that Paul espouses. Tim Pawlenty did remarkably well, considering he’s about as boring and instantly forgettable as one can get. But Sarah Palin has to be worried – while New Hampshire isn’t her kind of state, she should be getting more than 7% among party activists, considering that her name recognition is about 100%. People have already made their minds up about her. She might just pick up Michele Bachmann’s 5%, but that’s about it. That’s her ceiling. Jim DeMint can be happy about his 5%, considering that he’s shown no signs of running and hasn’t been visiting any primary states. Herman Cain’s 4%, given that no-one knows who he is, isn’t bad either. But everyone else did terribly. Newt Gingrich, who most media types consider to be a frontrunner, didn’t even place in the top 10. Mike Huckabee got under 3% (though he’s polling extremely well in Iowa, so he can afford to be a bit less worried). Chris Christie, who’s purportedly the new darling of the right, did badly too. And how much would it suck to be John Thune, that media favourite, the fresh face from South Dakota, who placed in 21st and last place with 0% of the vote?

These straw polls don’t matter much at this stage. We don’t even know who is and isn’t running yet. And unknown candidates can certainly pull off upsets with the right campaign strategy – Christ, no-one had even heard of Mike Huckabee back in 2007! Still, though, what this shows is that, as of now, Mitt Romney is the man to beat. And if things stay this way, the only way anyone can best him is to be the anti-Romney, anti-establishment candidate – which is why one assumes he’s dying to have Sarah Palin enter the race.

And yes, I realise that other posts on the site suggest that the race is wide-open. That’s true. Anyone can win right now. But if you wanted to bet money on anyone, I’d suggest a fiver on Romney. Not more than that – worth waiting and seeing how he deals with past political flip-flops like healthcare and abortion – but he’s the favourite right now.

Then and Now: Can America Heal Itself?

Robert Samuelson writes in the Washington Post that, for all of the talk of tea party madness and hateful rhetoric, and its potential contribution to Gabrielle Giffords’s shooting in Tucson a little over a week ago, things were at least as bad in the 1960s. As he points out:

Precisely the same sort of breakdown occurred in the Sixties, and although the causes were very different, the consequences as measured by public divisiveness and anxieties were as great or greater. “The country was more divided than at any time since 1861, just before the Civil War,” says historian Allen Matusow of Rice University, author of the acclaimed Sixties’ history “The Unraveling of America.”

He’s probably right. In a sense, the 1960s can be viewed as a minor civil war, or at least a societal revolution, not only in terms of racial politics, but also more generally in terms of the reactionary forces of yesteryear doing whatever was in their power to stymie the march of the forces of societal progress. For Christ’s sake, segregation was still the law of the land in vast swathes of the South! Even New York still had anti-sodomy laws! George Wallace, the king of racial hatred, won five states, 46 electoral votes and 13.5% of the popular vote in the 1968 presidential election! Open discrimination against women in the workplace was legal, tolerated and open!

Looking at then and now, we can find cause for triumph. On this, Martin Luther King Day 2011, while much still has to be done to further the cause of minority, women’s and gay rights, an African-American is now sitting in the White House, having narrowly beaten a female candidate. LGBT Americans can now openly serve in the military. The South now boasts two Indian-American governors (both Republican). There is much for which we can be thankful.

The horrific shooting in Arizona cannot be forgotten. A Congressman was shot through the head, and still lies in a serious condition in hospital, despite remarkable progress. Six people lost their lives, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge. Yet none of this compares to the deaths of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – all in the space of less than five years, from November 1963 (JFK) to June 1968 (RFK).

The country has moved on from the ’60s. This does not mean, however, that we can dismiss the events of the past weeks, months and couple of years. While Gabrielle Giffords will probably pull through, there is a climate of hatred in America that cannot be ignored – and it is directed mainly at the current president, and all that he represents and stands for. Consider this, from the North Iowa Tea Party:

Or this, from Sarah Palin:

Or any of the fearful conspiracy-theory nonsense about President Obama’s socialist, Muslim, communist, marxist, fascist, nazi, black supremacist, Chicago thug agenda, and the people who support it, like Gabrielle Giffords (who, by-the-by, was a moderate, pro-gun democrat from a red state).

There’s a great video of Reverend Wright, Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor, talking about America’s chickens coming home to roost. He, of course, was talking about America getting its comeuppance for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He could just as easily have been talking about the right wing’s cynical manipulation of the natural paranoia that lurks in the hearts of so many Americans, and its inevitable, bloody, tragic consequences.

For two years, talk radio hacks like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News hate-mongers like Glenn Beck have tried everything in their power to convince Americans that their current head of state lacks all legitimacy, and is actually working to destroy the very country in which he was born and raised. Their violent rhetoric, and their supporters have responded by brandishing guns at political rallies. Then, when a sitting member of Congress is gunned down in broad daylight, they express shock and horror that anyone would even think that their words could have pushed an already insane, paranoid individual to pull the trigger.

I am not accusing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh of wanting a congresswoman dead. What I am saying, however, is that if we want to avoid seeing another generation of young idealistic leaders gunned down by nuts, the right must realise that violent words beget violent deeds. While we live in a more tolerant society than ever before, we seem more politically divided than ever before, and less willing and able to understand and speak to one another. While we watch the same television and read the same magazines, we no longer speak the same language.

This does not mean that we cannot disagree. Respectful disagreement is the foundation of political debate. Part of what I cherish in a friend – and I believe that I am not alone in this – is the ability to spar over politics and ideology while still enjoying one another’s company. But what if we were a little more like the West Wing – where disagreement does not mean demagoguery and dishonesty – instead of the West Bank, where we lob bombs at one another?

Perhaps the situation that I am describing is completely unrealistic. Perhaps it is naïve. Manipulating the people is always easier and certainly more effective in the short term than being honest with them. I simply fear that without a realisation of the consequences of our words and acts, the coming decade will be as divisive and bloody as that of my parents’ childhoods. And maybe Martin Luther King Day is the one moment where we can actually come together and say no to hatred and division.

Probably not, though.