The transcript of last night's debate makes the extraordinary exchange between Romney and Bachmann that I complained about look even extraordinarier:
"ROMNEY: ...Let me turn to Congresswoman Bachmann and just—just as you, Congresswoman. As—as we've spoken this evening, we're all concerned about getting Americans back to work. And you've laid out some pretty bold ideas with regards to taxation and cutting back the scale of the federal government. And there's no question that's a very important element of getting people back to work.
And I'd like to ask you to expand on your other ideas. What do you do to help the American people get back to work, be able to make ends meet? You've got families that are sitting around the kitchen table wondering how they're going to make—make it to the end of the month. You've got—you've got young people coming out of college, maybe not here at Dartmouth, but a lot of colleges across the country wondering where they can get a job.
What—what would you do—beyond the tax policies you describe—to get people back to work?"
Brian Motopoli at CBS News agrees that this was a "softball" question but argues it was
"...a show of strength in light of Bachmann's long odds at winning the nomination. Romney would be all too happy to see Bachmann stick around at least until to the Iowa caucuses, where she can split the conservative vote with Cain and Perry and give Romney the opening he needs to win the state."
[Republican Debate, Winners And Losers, October 11, 2010]
But I think there's more to it than that. Romney literally bared his throat to Bachmann by mentioning unemployed college graduates. She could have said:
"I'm surprised to learn that you're aware of unemployed college graduates, because this is exactly the group that will be most hurt by your repeated proposals to "staple a green card" to the diplomas of foreign tech graduates from U.S. colleges. And in the economic plan I proposed yesterday, I made the point that we should tighten up the labor market by enforcing the law against the estimated eight million illegal aliens who have stolen jobs that Americans desperately need (to say nothing of their children who are stealing our tax dollars for welfare and education).
I know your big donors, your clients at Bain, won't like that. But we Republicans have to be careful about being seduced by Big Business. It's hard enough to make the case for capitalism. We don't want to be drawn into defending crony capitalism. We want to defend the American people."
She could have—but she didn't.
Yet a Washington Post poll yesterday showed that Romney's plan is intensely unpopular, especially (63%-27%) among Republican-leaning voters. Bachmann could have burst Romney's bubble just as Rick Perry burst his own bubble by saying opponents of his Texas DREAM Act had "no heart".
And Bachmann would not even have had to mention a legal immigration moratorium or birthright citizenship reform. She would have been well within her apparent comfort zone.
Yet she did not strike—nor did she even mention enforcing the law against illegal aliens, although it figured in her own "jobs plan" released the same day.
(Instead what she said was this:
"BACHMANN: Well, I do understand that. I'm—I'm a mother of 28 kids, 22 foster kids, 5 biological kids. I get how difficult it is for young people right now to get jobs right out of college. It's very, very tough.
And the solutions that I'm offering in my plan, which if I can give a commercial, are at michelebachmann.com. The solutions that I'm offering aren't just a silver bullet. It's not just the tax code. It's also dealing with the regulatory burden, because businesses—my husband and I started our own successful business. I'm 55. I spent my whole life in the private sector. I get job creation, too. And the business world is looking at 1.8 trillion every year in compliance costs with government regulations.
That has to go. So I want to get rid of that, it's the mother of all repeal bills. But the number one reason that employer say that they are not hiring today is "Obama-care." And I was the leading critic for President Obama in Washington, D.C., against "Obama-care." That is why I was the first member of Congress to introduce that bill to repeal "Obama-care." I understand that is what is inhibiting job creation and job growth.
We have to repeal that. I also introduced and I fought on Barney Frank's committee against Dodd-Frank, which is the "housing and jobs destruction act." That's why I was the chief author of that bill as well. There is much more to my solutions, go to michelebachmann.com and you can find out."
I suppose stupidity, or lack of imagination, is a possible explanation for this entire exchange. Thus Bachmann directed her own question to Perry, who is competing for the same social conservative/ Religious Right vote and whom she certainly wanted to hurt—but her question was just boilerplate about government spending instead of an attack on his awful immigration record (which exends far beyond in-state tuition). This may reflect her dependence on conventional GOP consultants, of whom Dick Morris memorably said in his 1997 Behind The Oval Office:
"I had studied the Republican Party from within as one of their consultants. If you are in their field of fire, they are deadly. Raise taxes, go soft on crime, oppose work for welfare, weaken the military? They’re all over you yelling “liberal”. If you wander into their line of fire, they’re going to kill you every time. But they have no other game plan, no other way to win. If you come around behind them or alongside and don’t raise taxes, if you’re tough on crime and want to reform welfare, use the military effectively, and cut spending, they can’t hit you. A tank can rotate its turret—a Republican can’t."
But Romney's consultants must have read that morning's Washington Post with its headline pointing to devastating poll on one of their candidate's pet Big Business panders. I cannot believe they would have exposed him to this risk—unless there was already an agreement between the Romney and Bachmann camps.
The result for Bachmann is well summarized by CBS' Motopoli in his final dismissive paragraph:
"Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann: Perhaps it's unfair to put these three candidates in the "losers" column, since their performances met the (low) expectations that existed coming into Tuesday night. But all three need to do something to get out of the single digits in national polls - to offer up a performance or generate a moment that will resonate enough to get GOP primary voters to give them a second look. None did."
Is this another example of the mysterious force that prevents GOP candidates (and for that matter MainStream Media Bigfeet) from mentioning immigration?
Or does Bachmann really think that, by sparing Romney, she may get his Veep nod? (Dick Morris today suggests Treasury Secretary.)
Bachmann would certainly balance the ticket, with her putative appeal to Tea Partiers, social conservatives and the religious right.
But there's a subtext to both the Bachmann and Ron Paul campaigns. Both have excited the enmity of small but deadly interest groups—respectively, gays and Zionists.
Paul at least hasn't outright attacked our Israeli connection, and his implicit criticism wins him surprising under-the-radar friends as well as enemies. However, I don't know that there's any untapped force to balance the notorious ruthlessness of the gay lobby—and I strongly doubt that Romney, who will have his own problems as a Mormon, is the man to stand up to it.
Bachmann could have caught the Cain thermal. Now maybe the best she can hope for is to replace Janet Napolitano as DHS Secretary.'