Ever since Rick Perry declared his candidacy, Bachmann has struggled to emerge from his shadow. Once the undisputed craziest candidate who had a plausible shot at the nomination, the congresswoman from Minnesota has suddenly had to contend with a remarkable string of wacky revelations from her Texan opponent. One thing is clear: Between the two of them, there’s more craziness than Ron Paul fans at a straw poll. But who’s the most off-the-wall? To save you the time and intricate mental calculations, TNR has devised a nine-part Craziness Index to settle the matter, once and for all.
Round One: Gun Rights
Rick Perry: Perry, not content merely to run with scissors, actually jogs with a gun and says he shot a coyote that looked at his dog the wrong way.
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has paid ample lip service to the Second Amendment and performed the usual ritual of shooting assault rifles at a gun range to bolster her NRA credentials, but there’s no record of her killing a wild animal during her morning aerobics.
Discussion: Teddy Roosevelt surely found occasion to run with a gun on especially perilous hunting safaris, but jogging and shooting? There’s something unsettling about the thought of Rick Perry in running shorts, to say nothing of him packing heat at the same time.
Round Two: Immigration
Rick Perry: Despite some recent rightward hedging, Perry has been relatively moderate on immigration, in large part due to Texas’s sizable Hispanic population. When it comes to the DREAM Act, Perry faces a problem similar to Romney’s headache with the Affordable Care Act, having signed a state-level law that allowed foreign-born children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition (but not citizenship). Perry even gave a bleeding-heart speech to mark the occasion, calling Texas a “compassionate” state and saying, “We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, ‘we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.’”
Michele Bachmann: In 2008, Bachmann told a Fox anchor she wanted to mandate that all drivers’ license tests be conducted in English. She has also advocated for a wall spanning the length of the border between the United States and Mexico, which she occasionally refers to as a nation of “narco-terrorists.”
Discussion: Clearly, Perry is edging here—as he rarely does—into liberal territory. Bachmann, on the other hand, is playing the conservative parlor game of trying to come up with the most outrageous way of securing American territory from anyone who might want to come in, ever, for any reason.
Round Three: Gay Rights
Rick Perry: Perry does not support gay marriage, but has until recently maintained the position that states could do as they pleased. In late August, Perry caved and signed an anti-gay marriage pledge, putting him in line with the mainstream conservative position. He’s also claimed the Boy Scouts are threatened by the “homosexual movement” and defends Texas’s anti-sodomy law, ruled unconstitutional in 2003.
Michele Bachmann: In addition to signing the recent pledge, Bachmann has also participated in some very weirdo behavior during her various anti-gay crusades. In 2005, she hid behind the bushes at a pro-gay marriage rally. The same year, she screamed that she was being “held against her will” when two lesbian women approached her in the bathroom of a community center. She also compared gay people to pedophiles and sex abusers in arguing against a gay hate crimes bill in 2009. Finally, in perhaps her creepiest move, she prayed for a gay colleague over his desk while serving in the Minnesota state senate.
Discussion: Perry opposes gay rights in a manner largely consistent with his federalist, red-state views. Bachmann opposes gay rights because she’s terrified for her safety.
Round Four: Foreign Policy
Rick Perry: We don’t have a ton of information on his foreign policy, but Perry has tended to strike an isolationist tone. Recently, however, he is reported to have retained the advice of neoconservatives Donald Rumsfeld and Doug Feith.
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann came out against Obama’s Libya intervention, and in an overture to the pro-Israel community, criticized the president for allowing one of the country’s “best friends,” former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to fall. Bachmann’s biggest idea on foreign relations, however, is blocking Sharia law from taking root at all costs. She also once theorized that Iran was planning to divide Iraq into three parts and name one of them the “Iraq State of Islam.”
Discussion: In yet another move to solidify her Iowa credentials before the January caucus, Bachmann is claiming to represent the sixth district of the Iowa State of Minnesota. Which is currently threatened by Creeping Sharia.
Round Five: Evolution
Rick Perry: Perry told some poor kid in New Hampshire that “It’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it.”
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann says all the right right-wing things about evolution, but to give her claims added credibility, she cites “hundreds and hundreds of scientists” who believe in intelligent design, “many of whom have won Nobel prizes."
Discussion: First, if Bachmann’s figure includes members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, we ask that it be retracted. Second, as of 2001, there were 2,157,300 scientists employed in the United States. Her “hundreds” figure is therefore reminiscent of a demand made by the great, unaccredited mad scientist Dr. Evil.
Round Six: The Constitution
Rick Perry: Perry wrote in his book, Fed Up, that everything the courts have interpreted the commerce clause of the constitution to permit—e.g. “federal laws regulating the environment, regulating guns, protecting civil rights, establishing the massive programs and Medicare and Medicaid, creating national minimum wage laws, [and] establishing national labor laws” defy the original intent of the constitution. Perry also decries the 16th and 17th amendments, which call for a federal income tax and the direct election of U.S. Senators. And for good measure, he called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke “almost treasonous.”
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann brands herself a “constitutional conservative,” and like Perry, thinks the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education don’t pass constitutional muster. She also once asked Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, to their puzzlement, if they could point to any clause in the constitution giving them the right to bail out the government.
Discussion: Calling things unconstitutional is Bachmann’s bread and butter, but she hasn’t yet intimated that several constitutional amendments are themselves borderline unconstitutional, a feat that may end up being Perry’s coup de grace.
Round Seven: American History
Rick Perry: Perry harbors the interesting historical perspective that the Civil War was precipitated by the trampling of northern states’ rights by the Fugitive Slave Law and other instances of big government slaveholder activism.
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has conflated Concord, Massachusetts with Concord, New Hampshire and John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer. The endearing naïf that she is, she also believes the founding fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” The first two are gaffes; the third is simply wrong.
Discussion: Anyone can get their facts mixed up, so we give the nod to Perry for this radical re-interpretation of American history, as well as his ability to maintain a states’ rights understanding of the beginning of the Civil War without coming across as a Southern apologist.
Round Eight: Divine Inspiration
Rick Perry: Perry couches his pro-austerity position on the national debt in biblical principles. “I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose,” he said, “to bring us back to those biblical principles of, you know, you ‘don’t spend all the money.’” Also, he prayed for rain in front of 30,000 people.
Discussion: Bachmann’s natural disasters position is standard among evangelicals. If Perry can find a little more textual evidence in favor of his divine debt-reduction theory, the GOP’s current austerity shtick may outlast the recession as the unifying principle that forever yokes deficit hawks and fundamentalists.
Round Nine: Global Warming
Rick Perry: Perry said in August that scientists were coming forward every day with new evidence against global warming, which he thinks is a theory that has not been proven. In his book, he went further, calling it “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann agrees with Perry but goes further still, making the argument that humans shouldn’t be blamed for CO2 emissions because carbon is a “natural by-product of nature.” She adds that “there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas. There isn’t one such study because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas.”
Discussion: Bachmann’s comments (on Earth Day, no less) represent a pretty impressive tautology, and as far as we can tell, one that has never before been attempted, let alone on the floor of the House of Representatives.
And the winner is … Michele Bachmann in a 5-4 nail-biter. When she gets wind of her spot atop TNR’s Craziness Index, her confidence will surely swell. If she can just manage to get a few words in during tonight’s debate in Florida, we’re sure her credentials will shine through.
Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic.