There really are differences between Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. So why did Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s new political adviser, get called on the carpet for pointing them out?
It’s true that Bachmann and Palin are both sexy, conservative women who are Tea Party icons. They both like to use fiery rhetoric and, yes, they both have a tendency to mess up on American history.
But whatever you think of Bachmann’s ideas or political skills, it’s not that easy to write her off as a celebrity or a lightweight. She is a third-term congresswoman who before coming to Washington spent six years as a state senator and five as a federal tax litigation attorney. And so far there’s no sign that she’s planning a reality show about her family life, though her five children and 23 foster children are a perfect setup.
Rollins’ offense was telling Brian Kilmeade on his Fox Radio show, “Kilmeade and Friends”: “Sarah has not been serious over the last couple of years. She got the vice presidential thing handed to her. She didn’t go to work in the sense of trying to gain more substance. She gave up her governorship.” For that he earned headlines like Rollins “slams” Palin. Rollins “disses” Palin. Rollins “blasts” Palin. Rollins turns Palin and Bachmann from “frenemies” to “pure enemies.”
He later told Politico he shouldn’t have made the comment. “This was my transition from being an analyst to a political strategist, and I missed a step,” Rollins said.
I think he got a bad rap. Let’s look at the facts. The vice presidency was handed to Palin. She did quit her governorship. She did not join a think tank or buckle down to study policy. Instead, Palin has done a reality show about her family and Alaska, written a score-settling memoir and a partisan ode to “family, faith and flag,” gone on book tours, tweeted and Facebooked and offered her thoughts on Fox News. She’s now on a bus tour to American landmarks that may or may not be a prelude to a candidacy, minus the organization and clarity of a campaign, and is apparently a menace on the roads as well.
During the East Coast leg of Palin’s bus tour — in fact the very night she was sharing a pizza with another famous non-candidate, Donald Trump — Bachmann was holding a teleconference with activist members of GOPAC, a group that trains and promotes new GOP leaders.
For much of the call, Bachmann was deep in the weeds of the FAIR tax, the flat tax, education policy, pre-emption doctrine and budget cuts versus slower budget growth. She also talked about her role as a “burr” under the Democrats’ saddle in the Minnesota Senate. “There wasn’t a program that I didn’t go after and force them to justify or in some way try to attack,” she said proudly.
Her rhetoric was at times over the top — the auto bailout was “gangster government,” state legislators are being “lied to” about “Obamacare,” cooperation with the health law is a path to “our own demise,” and Obama does well with minorities “because his policies reach into their communities and make them dependent.”
Bachmann also had some choice words for the mainstream media — she said they have a stranglehold on the public. “Switch off the dinosaur media just like many Americans are doing and pretty soon they’ll go out of business,” Bachmann said.
As a veteran of the dinosaur media, I kept quiet, not knowing if I was even supposed to be listening. But then “Russell from ABC News” bravely piped up to ask a question. Bachmann welcomed him warmly, told him she was glad he was on the call, and answered him thoroughly.
Bachmann sounded an equally welcoming note to social, fiscal and “peace through strength” conservatives, whether or not they agree with her and each other 100 percent. “We can’t kick anyone out of our coalition,” she said. “Let’s lock on, let’s love each other, let’s work together to achieve these goals.”
That was the sound of a presidential prospect mindful of the necessity for the proverbial big tent. So was Bachmann’s promise that her economic plan — slashing spending, taxes and regulation — would cure our woes practically overnight. “It’ll take us three months and we’ll be growing and our biggest problem will be where are we going to get the labor for the jobs,” she said.
Overly optimistic and over the top, but no more so than Tim Pawlenty’s economic plan (“Let’s grow the economy by 5 percent”). He’s already a candidate for the Republican nomination, and Bachmann’s moves suggest she’s on the verge. In the end her most profound difference with Palin may be that she runs and Palin doesn’t. If they both end up getting in, make no mistake, we won’t be mixing them up.
This post first appeared on the site of Jill Lawrence, an award-winning analyst, columnist and commentary writer who has covered every presidential election since 1988.