Michele Bachmann made it official today: she’s running for president. She announced in the town of Waterloo, Iowa, where she grew up. Now, clearly, her candidacy represents someone’s “Waterloo.” The question is, whose?
I think it’s Tim Pawlenty’s, not Mitt Romney’s. After Romney’s humiliating 2008 debacle in Iowa, Romney this time around seems largely to have written Iowa off, focusing instead on winning big in New Hampshire and taking it from there. He’s skipping the big Iowa straw poll, and (to his credit) he is pandering to the religious right a tad less than he has in the past. I think he knows he isn’t going to win Iowa, so he isn’t going to try very hard. And if he doesn’t try, he has a ready answer for why he didn’t win; instead, he can plausibly declare victory (or, at least, non-defeat) with his likely second-place finish and move on. Good strategy.
Pawlenty, on the other hand, has to win Iowa to have any shot at all. He lives next door, and he’s been working the state hard for months. Yet, so far, he’s got almost nothing to show for it. Look at this week’s Des Moines Register poll:
Romney, the national front-runner and a familiar face in Iowa after his 2008 presidential run, attracts support from 23 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers. Bachmann, who will officially kick off her campaign in Iowa on Monday, nearly matches him, with 22 percent….
Former Godfather’s CEO Herman Cain, who has never held public office but has found a following among tea party supporters, comes in third, with 10 percent.
The other candidates tested register in single digits: former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 7 percent each; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 6 percent; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 4 percent; and former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, 2 percent.
Good Lord. All that effort, and all that money, and Pawlenty is still behind prank campaigns like Herman Cain’s and Ron Paul’s? To say nothing of Newt “worst campaign rollout in history” Gingrich? That’s just embarrassing.
Now, of course it’s possible that Pawlenty could turn things around. But frankly, even though it’s yet early, I don’t see that happening. Pawlenty’s problem is that he’s basically a crappy candidate. Nothing is going to change that. Bachmann, of course, could implode, and she will almost certainly say some kooky things between now and caucus day. But she showed in the recent debate that she is capable of being a more impressive, more disciplined candidate than many (including, I confess, myself) thought possible. As long as she doesn’t descend into Herman Cain territory, she is likely to keep her loyal following, while also not scaring off too many people who basically like her message but who don’t want to vote for a wacko. And, since the latter voters are the ones Tim Pawlenty needs, he’s cooked.
In short, Michele Bachmann is this year’s Mike Huckabee. She’ll win Iowa, as long as she’s got the organizational patience and wherewithal to assemble a solid caucus operation. She’ll contend in a few other states where the religious right is particularly strong; maybe she’ll even win one or two. And then she’ll fade as people get serious about who should actually be the next president, at which point Romney will finally seal the deal by amassing too many delegates for anyone else to have a shot. But Bachmann will take Pawlenty down with her, just like in 2008, Huckabee took down Romney.