JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 11, 2011
If you want to know why I take Michelle Bachmann seriously as a dark horse candidate, check out her lengthy interview with Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Bachmann may be a paranoid loony, but she does seem possessed of a level of political savvy that allows her to understand what challenges she faces and what steps she needs to take to address them.
For instance, she understands that she needs to distinguish her image from that of Sarah Palin, which means establishing her intellectual bona fides. Obviously, talking to Stephen Moore is an excellent way to come off smart, in the same way that if you worry that you look too fat, you should get your picture taken standing next to Bobby Bacala. Second, Bachmann needs to assure economic conservatives that she shares their agenda, and isn't just some religious nut. Here she goes:
Ms. Bachmann is best known for her conservative activism on issues like abortion, but what I want to talk about today is economics. When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. "I'm also an Art Laffer fiend—we're very close," she adds. "And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises," getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like "Human Action" and "Bureaucracy." "When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises."...
If she were to take her shot, she'd run on an economic package reminiscent of Jack Kemp, the late congressman who championed supply-side economics and was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996. "In my perfect world," she explains, "we'd take the 35% corporate tax rate down to nine so that we're the most competitive in the industrialized world. Zero out capital gains. Zero out the alternative minimum tax. Zero out the death tax."
You've got some highbrow names to establish gravitas (Friedman, von Mises) along with some disciples of voodoo economics (Laffer, Kemp) to excite a supply-sider like Moore and his audience. That's pretty much a bullseye.
Bachmann also expresses her view that the Paul Ryan budget is very hard to sell to voters:
She voted for the Paul Ryan budget—but "with an asterisk." Why? "The asterisk is that we've got a huge messaging problem [on Medicare]. It needs to be called the 55-and-Under Plan. I can't tell you the number of 78-year-old women who think we're going to pull the rug out from under them."
Again, she may be crazy, but she does have a strong grasp of political reality. The problem with so many radical candidates is that they lack political sense as well. Bachmann is a potent combination of substantively radical and politically shrewd, much like Ryan. And if Ryan does not run, Bachmann could make some noise.