Many in the press, and especially liberals, have attempted to paint Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as a shrill, extremist, inexperienced and stupid woman. They do so at their peril, and much to Bachmann's gain. Her performance at the GOP debate on Monday showed just how wrong that caricature is, with Bachmann putting in a widely praised performance, displaying a keen knowledge of foreign policy and fiscal issues.
Just as when liberals tried to paint George W Bush as stupid, they are making another toxic mistake in setting expectations incredibly low for Bachmann. By setting the bar of expectation so low it allows Bachmann to gracefully step over it and damage the credibility of her critics. This happened with Bush, and it appears to be happening again with Bachmann.
Monday's debate performance is already being seen as a potential turning point in how insiders view Bachmann, blowing up old views of her virtually overnight. As Politico points out:
"It was, quite simply, a different Michele Bachmann who emerged on stage at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire — a nuanced, focused and polished politician rather than the one-dimensional firebrand she’s been caricatured as in the past. If she is to make a serious run at the presidential nomination, Monday’s debate might be the turning point that gave the GOP establishment a reason to give her a second look."
Her critics have also tried to paint Bachmann as a Minnesota doppelganger of Sarah Palin, who has been more effectively caricatured to the wider electorate as insufficiently prepared for higher office. They face an uphill battle in doing so as the Christian Science Monitor points out:
"Many people think of Bachmann and Sarah Palin as cut from the same cloth, but beyond their obvious similarities as outspoken conservative women, they are distinctly different. Bachmann, a decade older at 55, had a career as a tax lawyer and is well versed in the finer points of legislation. She is not only a third-term House member but spent a half-dozen years before that in the Minnesota Senate."
Bachmann was also appointed by Speaker Boehner to the House Intelligence Committee, which is not generally a committee to which stupid, inexperienced Members get appointed. She displayed her knowledge gained from her work on the committee during the debate, referencing reports that suggest Al Qaeda members could be linking up with parts of the Libyan opposition, much as they did with sections of the Afghani opposition in the 1980s.
That's not to say Palin lacks experience, but Bachmann has considerably more experience in national affairs and tax policy than Palin. Her own campaign operatives are working hard to make distinctions between the two women with senior Bachmann advisor Ed Rollins telling the press that Palin isn't serious. Palin's camp demanded Rollins be fired over the comment. The fact that he hasn't shows a willingness on Team Bachmann to make that distinction clear and throw the punches required of an effective campaign. The hiring of Rollins, who was Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign Chairman and ran Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984, is also a sign that Bachmann is a serious candidate able to attract top knotch talent to her team.
Even Bachmann's shrillest critics have admitted she has an uncanny media sense. Her announcement of her campaign at the debate guaranteed she would dominate coverage of the debate for days. She also raised more money than any other Congressional candidate in the country in 2010, a key strength in a crowded field with candidates who can self-fund in large ways like Mitt Romney.
Added all together, Bachmann could end up being a far more credible challenger than her critics would like to admit. With her penchant for firebrand comments and a rapidly increased amount of scrutiny about to descend on her campaign, this moment of a fawning press could quickly recede. But for now it appears Bachmann is one to watch. As the Christian Science Monitor concludes:
"We don’t yet know how Michele Bachmann will fare under the grinding pressure of a national campaign. But if her maiden debate was any indication, she shouldn’t be underestimated."