Here’s how conservative, self-described “word doctor” Frank Luntz labeled each of the candidates immediately after the Republican debate on Fox News last night. Luntz told Sean Hannity:
Newt defined himself as the Reagan conservative,
Mitt Romney, the private-sector conservative,
Ron Paul, the civil liberties conservative,
Rick Santorum, the conviction conservative,
Jon Huntsman, the consistent conservative,
Michele Bachmann, the female conservative,
and my favorite is Rick Perry, the Tim Tebow conservative.
Whatever you think of these flattering tags, note that Bachmann doesn’t even warrant one. Luntz gives each of the guys a value-laden adjective, but Bachmann is merely “the female conservative.” Which is odd, because last night the Minnesota congresswoman clearly proved herself to be the cojones conservative.
We might not see much of her if she does poorly in the Iowa caucuses next month, but let it be known that in Sioux City only she and Ron Paul (and to a lesser extent Huntsman) really punctured some establishment Republican verities: he, on war; she, on buying favors in Washington.
Last night Bachmann whipped Gingrich silly. Going after him for taking $1.6 million from Freddie Mac while insisting that he never lobbied in his life, Bachmann more clearly than ever nailed him. “You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, DC, to get them to do your bidding.”
She also forced Gingrich to retreat to one of his most specious, self-damning defenses: that he doesn’t need to lobby because he’s such a fabulous financial success. “I was doing just fine,” he said of his Freddy Mac resident historian days. “I was doing a whole variety of things, including writing best-selling books…” A few weeks ago, of course, Newt told an audience in South Carolina that he didn’t need to lobby because he was a “celebrity” who gave speeches for $60,000 a pop.
Later in the debate, when Bachmann went after Gingrich for being soft on late-term abortion, he tried to avoid talking about it by saying, “Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn’t get her facts very accurate.” (Video below.) Well, that’s correct—Bachmann has time and time again been utterly reckless with facts. But as even Joe Scarborough said this morning, Gingrich “speaks in a different tone and is far more condescending to Michele Bachmann than he is to the men on the stage.”
Look, I’m feeling some sisterhood here (as I have at times with Joe’s co-host, Mika Brzezinski). This isn’t the first time Bachmann has been treated as the girl in the campaign, but it was particularly sad to see her defend herself to Gingrich last night by stating, “I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate.” (For the record, on Gingrich and the late-term abortion issue, Factcheck.org writes, “we found Bachmann was mostly correct.”)
But it was Ron Paul who, again and again, deflated the delusions that Republicans—including these candidates and their Fox News questioners—have been under since Vietnam. Bret Baier tried three times to get Paul fightin’ mad by asking what would he do if, as president, he had proof that Iran was close to building a nuclear weapon. Each time Paul refused to play game and only made his antiwar case more eloquently:
It’s no different than it was in 2003. You know what I really fear about what’s happening here? It’s another Iraq coming. There’s war propaganda going on. To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran.
To this, Bachmann did in fact overreact, saying, “I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul.”
But, like her or hate her, laugh at her or cheer her on, Bachmann’s been a bit more than “the female conservative” in the race.