Say what you will about Michele Bachmann, but don’t deny that she is the most theatrically skilled Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.
During a debate that did nothing to discourage the prospective campaigns of Republicans who were not on the stage— former Utah Governor John Huntsman, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and, above all, Texas Governor Rick Perry—Bachmann was the one candidate who made news.
At the opening of the second Republican presidential debate Monday night, Bachmann took an unprecedented step: she announced that she had formally entered the race for the GOP nomination—a move that just a few months ago was unimaginable to almost anyone but the congresswoman from Minnesota.
Yes, it was a little bizarre. Most candidates get the family together, call in a crowd of supporters and deliver a rip-roaring address that scopes out a vision for the country. Bachmann says she’s jump through those hoops “soon.”
But rather than wait, Bachmann just told John King that she was ready to make the race.
It was a stunt.
But there’s a reason why politicians—especially politicians mounting uphill runs—pull stunts.
They grab attention, make voters take a second look and jumpstart a campaign.
That’s what Bachmann was doing, with her start-of-the-debate announcement and every answer she gave on a night that saw the men who would be president struggle to excite a friendly crowd.
“Michele Bachmann was introduced to the country for the first time and she did a very good job of it,” said veteran Republican operative (and Bush family retainer) Andy Card, who described the Minnesota congresswoman’s performance as polished, professional and powerful.
“It turns out Bachmann does a better job of being [Sarah] Palin than Palin does,” said Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, referencing the former governor of Alaska who can still make headlines but whose place in the Republican race may yet be occupied by Bachmann.
The congresswoman has had her own stumbles over the years. But she wasn’t stumbling Monday night.
More electric than the agonizingly drab also-rans (former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum), more on top of the issues than the other Tea Party favorite (pizza CEO Herman Cain), punchier than the serious libertarian (Texas Congressman Ron “Reserve Currency” Paul) or the know-it-all professor (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) it was Bachmann who most effectively held her own in competition with the smooth and relatively presidential frontrunner (Mitt Romney).
Romney had a decent night. Despite prompting from moderator John King. Pawlenty skipped a chance to press his “Obamneycare” comparison of President Obama’s health-care reform legislation and the reform plan Romney implemented as governor of Massachusetts. And Santorum, who has tried to make himself the race’s social conservative purist, went easy on Romney’s switch from a pro-choice to an anti-choice stance regarding abortion.