by Ron Kenner
Los Angeles, Calif.
September 18, 2011
SMARTER THAN SHE LOOKS
LOS ANGELES, Calif., Sept. 17, 2011, 11:05pm ET -- Rep. Ron Paul may have won the presidential straw poll at the California GOP 2011 Fall Convention pulling away, but at a party dinner Friday evening, where Rep. Michele Bachmann was the principal speaker, the Minnesota congresswoman won the reception.
Those who count Bachmann out of the race for the nomination are making a mistake, at least to judge from how California's major Republican activists and biggest donors responded to the third-term Iowan.
"I'm a Congressman, but I'm not a politician," the chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, winner of the Iowa Straw Poll and apparent Tea Party favorite told a wildly cheering crowd of uncommitted delegates to the state GOP convention.
That was a line that seems to work at a time when the state legislature, Democrats and Republicans alike, have apparently hit a new low with the public. Members of Congress aren't doing too well, either, sporting a 12 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll. And that's pretty low.
And she's pro-business, too, especially for small businesses which she sees as the backbone of America. In a wide-ranging talk at the J.W. Marriott hotel in downtown Los Angeles, she won major applause when she emphasized her booing of Obamacare, and also championed Israel, reduced taxes, less regulation and smaller government.
Of 11 announced candidates in the 2011 Straw Poll, Bachmann, a relatively new candidate with a relatively small donor base, came in fourth behind Congressman Ron Paul, (374 votes, 44.9%), Governor Rick Perry (244 votes, 29.3%), and Mitt Romney (74 votes, 8.8%).
Bachmann, with 64 votes (7.7%), came in fourth.
The other candidates (in order of votes garnered), Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI), Rick Santorum, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Fred Karger (a gay Republican campaign advisor), and write-ins, each earned less than 2%.
Bachmann has stumbled recently, and many Republicans feel she may have less appeal to a larger base. As she spoke among friends on Saturday, though, she resonated well not only with Tea Party members but with the larger Republican electorate.
That simple fact may present a challenge to the popular conception of her as a dumb woman who says stupid things and has thrown away her chance at the nomination with a series of mistaken utterances (in Iowa, for instance, she celebrated the day Elvis died as his birthday) and cultural faux pas.
Here in California, though, her appeal and intelligence were unmistakable, even if her prospects have not yet improved in the polls.
For Ron Paul, the straw poll victory was a fund-raising opportunity, and minutes afterwards, notes jammed with exclamation points went out to his prospective contributors.
"I just heard the great news!" the Saturday night fund-raising letter said. "Just moments ago, I was announced the winner of the California Republican Party Straw Poll with more votes than Rick Perry and Mitt Romney combined!"
"Not only that, but today's Constitution Day Money Bomb just topped $780,000! There's no doubt about it - you and I are sending a loud and clear message demanding a return to constitutional government.
"But if you haven't yet given to my Constitution Day Money Bomb, I hope I can count on you to contribute immediately. You see, my California Straw Poll victory combined with the success of today's Money Bomb is only more proof of what polls have been saying for months.
"Not only am I a top-tier contender to win the Republican nomination for President, bit I am the Republican to take on and defeat President Obama next year!"
Bachmann gaffes have been reminiscent of Sarah Palin's. In one recent uproar, scientists strongly disagreed with her latest assertions challenging a vaccine for cervical cancer that Gov. Rick Perry ordered state schools to give to 12-year-old girls. The vaccine has been widely praised for saving lives among those most at risk, who must be treated at puberty to get a positive effect.
Yet she is no dummy, and the masterful way in which she handled her GOP audience seemed to reflect a larger sense of international affairs than Palin has demonstrated. That includes, as she reminded the audience, her experience as a member of the House Committee on Intelligence. She also, whatever the content of her comments, seemed to have a warmer or at least less shrill presence than Palin.
Introduced to her audience by California Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro as a "firecracker" who is hardly known to be circumspect, Bachmann came out strong in the speech with clear statements and no apologies for herself or her nation.
"One thing I can promise you," she said to rousing applause, is that if she were president she would "never apologize" for America, "the greatest nation on Earth."
At the same time, she also acknowledged polls that say three-quarters of the U.S. population doubt that the next generation will fare better economically than their parents. The current jobs report is "the worst in 56 years," she said, and then emphasized that "we need a sound dollar," which she said has lost 12 percent of its value. A stronger dollar, of course, would make American goods more expensive overseas.
Many of her solutions to current problems take an economics thrust from those of the late President Ronald Reagan, and she sought to remind the audience of its generally accepted view that Reagan "won the Cold War" because he understood and was determined that the U.S. remain the world's military powerhouse.
She compared the feverish military buildup of the Reagan years to our current satellite program, in which, with no shuttle program, "Barack Obama would not be able to access the International Space Station" to obtain sensitive satellite data unless "we hitch a ride with the Russians." In contrast, Reagan's policy was one of "peace through strength," she said.
Not least, Bachmann told a supportive audience, Republicans need to fight and "wholly repeal the Dodd-Frank bill," and, she added, enact tax reform to reduce taxes and deregulate to clear the way for greater business growth. She had nothing good to say about the Environmental Protection Agency, familiar Republican bugaboo, and made no mention of global warming or the environment.
She did stress, however, that the United States is an "energy-rich nation" that should "drill, drill, drill" and take greater advantage of our coal and natural gas resources.
"Unlike Barack Obama, I don't believe that people who earn $200,000 are billionaires," she asserted. "As President of the United States," she added to increasing applause, "my goal is to take this country back. It's not that tough. The federal government needs to shrink so that the private sector can grow."
Some among independents and Democrats would argue that beyond military expansion, the government in the U.S. has been shrinking for many years - and most of those years were under Republican presidents.
Not least because of the loss of tens of thousands of government jobs, a last resort when other jobs are lost to automation and cheaper costs and wages overseas that Republican free-market initiatives support, many would argue that America's working labor force has been shrinking for some time.
How will more of the same make things better? That was a question no one raised and Bachmann didn't answer.
Bachmann will also be challenged by her statements on Administration tax hikes. The President on Monday will propose a minimum tax for those making more than $1 million per year, not $200,00, the New York Times reports in Sunday's editions.
"President Obama on Monday will call for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year to ensure that they pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers," the Times said, citing Administration officials who were not authorized to speak to the press.
Judging from her support tonight, Bachmann may well be picking up a fresh wind while former Gov. Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry head into battle for the nomination. Although she is pitted against the significantly larger fund-raising machine of Mitt Romney, at the California convention Bachmann ran about one percentage point behind the Massachusetts governor, who has also had his campaign problems recently.
But regardless of Bachmann, Palin and the Tea Party, if President Obama cannot get beyond his cool and also generate some sustained passion, well, welcome to tiny government.
Ron Kenner, a longtime correspondent of the American Reporter, is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. As a book editor at RKedit he has edited some 90 published books, including gold medal winners in nonfiction and fiction. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.