Michele Bachmann abruptly canceled scheduled events in Iowa on Tuesday to do nine conservative and Christian radio programs. Her No. 1 topic? Newt Gingrich’s soft stance on immigration. Which candidate does this most help? Mitt Romney.
Throughout the summer and fall, Romney has hardly needed to attack any of his rivals; Bachmann has done it for him. When Rick Perry was rising in the polls, it was Bachmann who went after him for supporting an HPV-vaccine mandate. When Herman Cain was on the ascent it was Bachmann who shot down his “9-9-9” plan and his “inconsistencies.”
Sure, the Minnesota Congresswoman has taken an occasional dig at Romney. On Nov. 9 she called him a “frugal socialist.” But in debates and in comparison with the vehemence with which she’s attacked other rivals, she’s gone easy on Romney. In fact, the two seem to have a pact of mutual nonaggression. Remember that roundtable debate last month when Romney lobbed that softball question to Bachmann about her jobs program?
If Bachmann’s former campaign manager Ed Rollins is to be believed, she’s gunning to be Romney’s No. 2. Why would Romney pick Bachmann – who is undisciplined, bombastic and controversial – to be his running mate? The appeal is actually greater than it might seem at first blush.
Romney, if he is the nominee, will enter the general election a weak candidate. If anything, the race thus far has shown that the base is desperate for anyone else but him to be the nominee. Republicans will almost certainly not be fired up, especially the Tea Party flank. Much like John McCain in 2008, Romney will be facing enthusiasm numbers probably somewhere around 30% or less; indeed he’s hardly managed to break 30% in most GOP primary polls. Which means his running mate will have to be someone beloved by the base.
For all the blame Team McCain dumped on Sarah Palin in the wake of their loss, she did what she was supposed to do: gin up excitement among the base for a candidate otherwise perceived as flawed by most diehard activists. McCain’s enthusiasm numbers went from 30% to 70% among registered Republicans. Romney will likely need a similar bump. And the No. 1 prerequisite for his Veep will have to be an aggressive attack stance. Palin perhaps destroyed her own career – or, at least, her ability to govern Alaska – by becoming McCain’s pit bull. Most folks don’t remember that before being plucked from obscurity, she was wildly popular with Democrats and Independents in Alaska and was widely seen as moderate and bipartisan.
While most folks think Senator Marco Rubio will be Romney’s pick – he delivers Florida, the Tea Party and Latinos – there’s a lot less incentive for Rubio to go hyperpartisan unless Romney’s sure to win the White House. If Rubio becomes an attack dog and Romney loses, Rubio damages his own chances at the top slot in 2016. Some have speculated that Ohio Senator Rob Portman might be Romney’s pick. I think of Portman the way I thought of Joe Lieberman in 2008: that may be where Romney’s heart is, but none of his advisers are going to allow him to pick a man even blander and wonkier than the candidate himself to be his running mate. Bachmann, for all her flaws, is an attractive second option. She’s a woman who has a proven draw with the Tea Party. And she has repeatedly shown she has no problem going negative. So, Romney-Bachmann 2012? I certainly don’t imagine Bachmann would mind.