After ten days of headlines about how the national GOP has to change its conservative program and leadership or disappear–Republican leaders are dying to change the subject. “Please! The news cycle is only supposed to last 24 hours! We’ve got to get all these stories off the political media, now–the stories about how we lied to our own supporters about our chances and popular support, lied about how we ‘believed in’ Mitt Romney, lied about how we represent all of America. If we read one more true story about how we’ve shrunk to become ‘the party of angry white conservative men’–we’ll just SCREAM!”
Desperately trying to avoid, they must force that narrative off the front pages. And so: it’s back to Benghazi! Before the election GOP top priorities were “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and “repeal Obamacare”…That’s all gone, forget that, erase it, those were Etch-a-Sketch “top priorities”…
Instead of the economy, the top national priority for the GOP (this week) is to form a headhunting committee in Congress aimed at discrediting “guess who.” This time they’re going to try to frame Obama for misleading the public about the circumstances surrounding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
They won’t succeed, the public will recognize it as diversionary c**p even if the media won’t. But Michele Bachmann is on board for this particular diversionary c**p.
And that represents a departure for Michele. Usually she’s leading a conspiracy theory charge; this time she’s agreeing to come along as a follower. (The leader here is, I guess, Senator John McCain.)
During the run-up to the election, Michele presented herself as “bi-partisan” and focused on the economic interests of her constituents. That was Etch-A-Sketch, too. Her first high-profile outburst since re-election has nothing to do with her district or constituents.
Instead she returns right away to the national forum–by joining this latest GOP effort to “get” the President. (She’s just issued a long statement accusing the Obama administration of presenting a “false narrative” about events at Benghazi. See the link below.)
Over the years Bachmann’s been careful to distance herself from the establishment Republicans. Why join them now, on this Benghazi thing?
After the last election cycle, Michele sought a leadership position in GOP House majority. And she demanded a seat on a committee with real policy making authority, a place where she could do some real damage on taxation and budget issues. But the GOP leadership denied her all that and instead shunted her off to House Intelligence Committee. (In Bachmann’s view, a kind of Siberian exile.)
At the beginning of November I went out on a limb and suggested that once the conservative Republican majority was returned to Congress, it would be difficult for its commanders to deny Bachmann a voice in the GOP House leadership and one of those seats on a primo committee.
The GOP did keep their majority in Congress and the red states returned nearly all of Michele’s tea party caucus colleagues. (One of those Tea Party Caucus colleagues, Pete Sessions, was just appointed to chair the powerful Rules Committee.)
And I’m still out on that limb, regarding my prediction of more post-election power for Bachmann. At this writing, she’s still trapped on the House Intelligence Committee.
But she doesn’t want to stay in that trap. And that may explain her decision to return to the headlines via a McCain White House conspiracy theory (instead of doing what she usually does: floating a White House conspiracy theory of her own making.)
McCain notoriously denounced Bachmann on the floor of the Senate for alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood had ‘deeply penetrated’ the White House foreign policy apparatus. The adverse publicity and press led her to back off the accusations, pronto. (She now claims that she had only been “asking questions.”)
John McCain was excoriating her for doing the kind of thing that’s made her more influential with American conservatives than John McCain. Michele Bachmann attained personal fame and national influence by catering to the paranoid fantasies of American conservatives; by running to the right of the GOP leadership. GOP leaderships don’t like it, when junior GOP figures run to their right–it embarrasses them, casting them as comparative cowards, moderates, and compromisers in eyes of the conservative voters.
Very often GOP leaderships will punish junior politicians who embarrass them that way. A GOP leadership can dead-end an embarrasment’s career via obstruction–or (as with Bachmann) deny plum posts. But the current GOP leadership has never been able to entirely marginalize Michele Bachmann. That’s because the forces that continue to back her are national: the Christian Right, the tea party, the national conservative media. With that kind of backing, Bachmann has successfully resisted pressure to turn her into a GOP “team player,” subordinate to the House leadership.
But it seems to me that she’s now convinced that she can no longer do an end run around the party leadership by relying on those national forces alone. That is how I interpret Bachmann’s decision to return to the headlines, post-election, as a team player on the “get Obama via Benghazi” expedition. My guess is that Bachmann now believes that she can’t get the positions she wants without lending her support to senior leadership.
Bachmann’s “team player” support is politically valuable. Via right wing media, her conservative name recognition and credibility remains high and positive. She’s still the darling of the Christian Right and the tea party, two pillars of the shrinking Republican base that continue to strike fear into the hearts of her GOP rivals. And via her regular conspiracy mongering, Bachmann has earned terrific credibility with nearly every right wing nut in the United States.
So–if she chooses–she can deliver the enthusiastic support of all these constituencies, bases that instinctively distrust the leadership of establishment Republicans. And supporting the leadership in an effort to discredit Obama will cost her nothing; it’s a chronic goal for her backers and supporters.
Bachmann came to power as demagogue in part by distancing herself from establishment GOP. (Recall, for example, her decision to give a Tea Party response to the State of the Union address as an alternative to the official Republican response.) Will this effort to present herself to the GOP House leadership as a team player be sustained? Will it be successful, if her goal is to win a post of real influence in GOP policy making?
I don’t know. I’m still out here on a limb.