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Bachmann Campaign Starts With a Bang

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Rep. Michele Bachmann in Waterloo, Iowa.
Rep. Michele Bachmann in Waterloo, Iowa.
Steve Pope/Getty Images

Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign is running exactly according to plan. She kicked off the festivities Monday with one of her all-time Zucker-Brothers-style whoppers, confusing John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy  (I wonder how the citizens of Waterloo, Iowa feel about that slip). Then in the next two days she set the political journalism world on fire with a series of characteristically provocative statements/positions. Bachmann, singlehandedly, is going to keep sites like politifact.com and factcheck.org profitable through the 2012 race (and beyond, if she wins).

The most interesting statement of Bachmann’s came in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, in which she announced she would consider abolishing the federal minimum wage. She believes that eliminating this and other regulations would “virtually wipe out unemployment.”

There are a couple of things about this that are interesting. One, Bachmann should be given props for actually coming out and taking a position on something – a rarity at this stage of the presidential race, when candidates mostly try to out-cliché one another. And Bachmann didn’t just take any position, she took a very bold one; as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out, few Republican candidates have ever taken a stance against the federal minimum wage. Even Barry Goldwater seems to have backed off the issue (although he may have once opposed increases in the minimum wage), and Sargent thinks Reagan might have done the same.

I actually think this was a smart move on Bachmann’s part. She is for sure going to take some heat on the minimum-wage issue, and already there are fiery debates between economists on the left and the right as to effect of reducing the minimum wage on unemployment (I’m agnostic on the issue, but I would like to see a reality show in which ten presidential candidates were forced to live on the minimum wage for six months).

But the controversy gives her cred with Tea Party voters, who still can’t be 100 percent sold on her, given some of her past positions (like the Patriot Act). If Michele Bachmann captures the bulk of the Tea Party vote, she can win this nomination rather handily. She’s got to beat back Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Santorum so far on that side, and if she wins that turf war, the only obstacles to the nomination for her are Romney, Pawlenty and Gingrich. Taking a bold, hardline Tea Partyish stance like this days into her campaign seems a very smart play to assert her leadership of the Tea Party vote – similar to her canny decision to set up a Tea Party caucus in congress.

Elsewhere, reports surfaced that the therapy clinic belonging to Michele Bachmann’s husband Marcus – whom she married after the couple experienced simultaneous visions from God – has received over $100,000 in Medicaid funds. This is sort of the typical progression of Tea Party politicians; they come out blasting any sort of government “welfare,” and then it comes out later that they themselves a) have collected farm subsidies b) are doctors with a 50 percent Medicare-supported patient base who also oppose cuts in such doctor payments and c) are strident opponents of government health care who themselves are insured by government health care programs (this is nearly universal among TP candidates, but my favorite example is Sharron Angle and her husband). Bachmann, of course, added her own unique twist to the Tea-Party-hypocrisy meme, being an antitax advocate who once worked as an attorney collecting taxes for the IRS.

So this news about Marcus Bachmann collecting state aid is not so surprising, but what is interesting is that he got these state funds and used them for, among other things, counseling gays to abandon their orientation. I hadn’t seen this quote before, but I’m sure it will repeated quite a lot in the upcoming months (emphasis mine):

“We have to understand that barbarians need to be educated, need to be disciplined,” Bachmann said. “And just because someone thinks [they're gay] or feels it doesn’t mean we need to go down that road. That’s what is called the sinful nature.”

We can pretty much count out the gay vote for this candidate, I think.

Lastly, Bachmann in her Stephanopoulos interview unveiled what I think (I haven’t heard it before, at least) was a new take on her “the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery” comment. Her new thing is to say that John Quincy Adams, who was a founding father, worked tirelessly to end slavery. Therefore, apparently, the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery. When Stephanopoulos asked her if she was standing by her original statement, she repeated the Quincy Adams answer. So that’s fantastic – rather than own the mistake, she’s just plowing ahead.

(A friend of mine joked that it was too bad Stephanopoulos didn’t follow up with more John Quincy Adams questions. If he’d kept it up, she might eventually have qualified her statement by noting that Quincy Adams opposed slavery for most all of his life, right up until the time police discovered the bodies of 33 young men in his basement...)

(Another side note, on the Gacy business: many jokes passed back and forth last night between friends over which celebrities Bachmann will confuse next. Reader input welcomed on this issue – see poll below.)

There are some people who think that Bachmann’s high-profile entrance into the race has been bad for her, but I would argue the opposite. Almost all the other potential candidates made similar screw-ups after jumping in (Newt Gingrich may have set the all-time record), and none of them has garnered the attention Bachmann has.

This to me reflects a few things, but most notably it shows the fascination that the mainstream media (including jerks like me, of course) has with Bachmann. Which is theoretically meaningless, except that voters pick up cues from reporters. If the national press treats Bachmann like the alpha dog in the Republican pack, voters will catch on to that. Subconsciously, she begins to be thought of as a frontrunner. I think all this attention actually enhances her credibility, unfortunately.

Anyway, I would advise anyone who wants to know more about Bachmann to read a new book on her by William Prendergast and Chris Truscott called Michele Bachmann’s America. Prendergast, who lives in Bachmann’s hometown of Stillwater, Minnesota and has been following her for years, is like the living oracle of Bachmann, and walked me through her whole life story on the telephone a few weeks ago. The book is available in Kindle version.

POLL

Q. What will Michele Bachmann get mixed up next?

VIEW RESULTS

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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