After the apology of senior advisor Vin Weber for referring to Michele Bachmann’s “sex appeal,” Tim Pawlenty’s team is learning the hard way that campaigning against a woman can be uniquely tricky. The charge of sexism constantly lurks just around the corner. It is frequently justified, because politics and media remains a male-dominated game, but sometimes not. Barack Obama was, not very deservedly, called a sexist during the 2008 Democratic primaries, and then again during the general election (remember the great “lipstick on a pig” debate?). Bachmann’s potent role in the GOP race seems to ensure the familiar combination of dumb statements by men–“Are you a flake?”–as well as manufactured outrages by the female candidate’s more cynical defenders. In this case, Weber’s words probably fall into the former category. Each of the Republican candidates will have to be aware of this dynamic, for reasons of both decency and expediency. Although for now the risks loom largest for Pawlenty, who more than anyone else needs to tear down Bachmann before she smothers his candidacy in the cornfields of Iowa.
P.S. Here’s a photo I stumbled upon of Bachmann and Weber, who are friends, chatting back in January.