August 16, 2011

The Queenmaker

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I watch the Presidential election like other people watch the NFL or NASCAR. I keep a scorecard and make pithy observations about my team and favorite players. And I like to watch the competition. My team isn’t getting any decent press right now, and probably won’t unless we have a solid jobs program and the unemployment rate goes down.

The opposing team is offering fascinating moves. Tell me, who do you think is the most interesting person from the red team in the 2012 presidential playbook?

Having just read “The Queen of Rage” and the “Leap of Faith” profiles about Michelle Bachmann in “Newsweek” and “The New Yorker” respectively, and having watched her work the Iowa State fair like a 4-Her works his prize Duroc hog, you might think I’ll name Rep. Bachmann.
But, no. Not Bachmann, or even the enigmatic Ron Paul, who was within a percent of Bachmann’s win in the Iowa Straw Vote Saturday (but largely ignored by the media, and I predict will continue to be ignored.)

I’m going for Ed Rollins here. the controversial Republican operative who is now her campaign manager. One cannot help but note a huge difference in Bachmann’s onscreen persona from the “pre-Ed” days to the present. One has to wonder, was it Bachmann’s huge presence in Iowa that killed Tim Pawlenty’s chances even after Pawlenty put all his coins in the Iowa Straw Poll slot machines? (Maybe not, to paraphrase pundit Stephanie Miller on CNN, “I’ll miss the electricity of the Pawlenty campaign.”)

The brusque Rollins is famous in Washington circles as a hard-charging Republican kingmaker. He deftly directed President Ronald Reagan’s performance in 1984 against Senator Walter Mondale. (Anybody remember the debate where Reagan said, I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.”

Of course, I cannot attribute that quote to Ed Rollins, Reagan said it in front of millions at a network debate, but I think it is curious that Rollins is now one of Bachmann’s chief advisors.

How far we’ve come! I was so mesmerized by Bachmann’s encores on the Sunday morning talk shows that I ignored worship at the local Lutheran Church to stay abed and catch the Congresswoman on almost every show.

She’s 55, mother of five children of her own, and raised countless foster children (23?) and she was bright-eyed and on top of her game for curtain call after curtain call this morning.

What amazed me the most is how she is handling the questions about her former “gaffes.” What does it mean for a Christian wife to be submissive? As a progressive but non-evangelical Christian, I’m always intrigued by the evangelicals who operate from what they call a “Biblical world view.” (For more information on Bachmann’s world view, read “The New Yorker” piece or this NPR story.)

At the Straw Poll debate earlier in the week, Fox’s own Chris Wallace played “hardball” with Bachmann and asked her to define what that meant, “being submissive.” As she did that night, and as she did in subsequent interviews, she gave an acceptable answer that even a pinko feminist like me could appreciate. “It’s all about respect,” she said.

This brings us back to Ed Rollins. She has been coached, and she has been coached well.

One cannot help but compare her to that other doyenne of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, who seems to lack self-control in many things she spouts, while Bachmann gives more thoughtful answers. Show business?

The other Bachmann topic this week has been her handling of the Newsweek cover. She has said “no comment” or deflected of questions about the picture which made her look slightly crazy. Again, what would Palin do? Palin would be screeching about the “lamestream media.” (“Newsweek” isn’t exactly “The Atlantic” since it began shacking up with “The Daily Beast”. One has to wonder editorial motivation in putting up such a cover? I tend to think it wasn’t sexist or partisan, but rather a shot at getting “Newsweek” more attention as it gurgles down the drain.)

Both of these examples about Bachmann scream of Ed Rollins as a puppeteer to her dancing marionette.

Watch Bachmann. She’s shrewd and that scares me. And it scares me that Ed Rollins is behind the scenes, throwing lines.

Whether she will have the cache to get the swing states is still open for debate, particularly as Gov. Rick Perry of Texas entered the race this weekend.
What she may do is drive more independents and former Republican social conservatives into the arms of Mitt Romney (though some evangelical Christians don’t find the Latter Day Saints part of their “in crowd.”)

My money, right or wrong, is on the Rollins candidate.