Michele Bachmann is an impressive retail politician. I doubt any presidential candidate, save for Teddy Roosevelt, has ever brought this much energy to campaigning.
All the other Republican candidates for president have followed the same rough format on the stump in Iowa. From the well-known (Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul) to the lesser-known (Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain), they appear and give short remarks, then take questions from the crowd and the press.
Bachmann is different. The Minnesota congresswoman campaigns like a rock star, storming onstage with music blaring, letting forth an impassioned speech, then meeting the throngs that appear around her afterward, attempting to hug every child, pose for every photo and sign every autograph she can.
The cue for Bachmann to descend from her enormous campaign bus is the sound of Elvis Presley singing Chuck Berry's "Promised Land." Sometimes she will grab the hand of her husband, Marcus, and jitterbug onstage until Elvis finishes his last line, "Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling, and the poor boy is on the line."
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She is quite simply the best campaigner in the GOP field, and given her recent victory in the Iowa straw poll, it's paying dividends.
In the multiple Bachmann appearances I attended in Iowa, she did not take questions or provide deep analytical details on most subjects. But it's still possible to get a sense of her candidacy from her remarks.
She considers herself a "fighter" for conservative causes, someone who is tough enough to take on President Obama and then, once in the White House, "Get 'er done!"
Get what done, in particular? She mentions — actually, passionately proclaims — two things: Repeal the health reform act, and cut government spending. "So much of the spending is just silly!" she exclaims often.
She is confident of success. She told an audience in Pella, Iowa, "Solving these problems is really not that hard. . . . What we need is leadership. Then the good times can come back. We just need someone with the willingness and will to get it done."
Bachmann's main theme is that she is the leader of a conservative movement that has at its base "family values and traditional moral values." She highlights that she stands for "life from conception until death and marriage between one man and one woman." God and religion play a large part in her message: "We will never be ashamed of being social conserva- tives. . . . We understand that religious liberty is the essence and the foothold of this nation, and we should never be ashamed or afraid of the faith that this nation was founded upon."
Bachmann has found success so far as a social conservative leader, but she wants to expand her appeal to fiscal conservatives and national-security conservatives. For fiscal conservatives, she cites her experience as a "federal tax lawyer" (she worked for the IRS) and small businesswoman. Regarding national security, she notes her time on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. This marriage of social, fiscal and national-security conservatives is, in her words, a "movement that can't be beat."
Bachmann's greatest strength in the crowded GOP presidential field may be her charisma, energy, optimism and willingness to stridently oppose Obama, passionately and with a smile. She is appealing to those in her party who are tired of the same old faces and the same old style.