The Conversation

An epitaph for 'outsider' presidential campaigns

In response to Rep. Michele Bachmann Will Not Run for Re-Election:

It seemed a bit odd for Bachmann to retire with a lengthy web video announcement, rather than calling a press conference.  It will fuel criticism that she really is running away from declining political fortunes and/or her 2012 campaign finance problems, and didn't want to answer questions from reporters.  (Only top Democrats like Barack Obama get to hold "press conferences" in which they make a prepared statement and run away without taking questions, without provoking media antagonism.)  

On the other hand, her dislike for liberal spin is both sincere and justified.  An eight-minute farewell filmed in a controlled setting might give her a longer reach with less media "filtering."  She might also be testing the waters for her next career move, watching to see how far the video spreads, and how well it is received.

I always had mixed feelings about Bachmann.  I saw her give a speech shortly before she launched her presidential bid, having never heard of her before, and was very impressed.  She was comfortable on stage, connected well with the audience, and did a good job of presenting her positions.  But then her sense of focus and purpose was lost during that ill-fated presidential campaign.  She got desperate, and began reaching for any club she could use to beat any opponent... except, oddly, Mitt Romney.  She got sloppy.  Republican candidates have very little room for sloppiness.  That goes double for conservative, libertarian, or Tea Party insurgents, and double again for renegade members of identity groups the Left thinks it owns, most definitely including women.

2012 was a bad year for the romantic notion of the "outsider" candidate, the guy or gal who comes out of nowhere (and for Presidential purposes, the House is nowhere) to seize the day.  Outsider campaigns just don't have the endurance to survive against well-prepared juggernauts with a broad base of Party support, deep pockets, and years of careful preparation.  We saw one outsider after another climb into the not-Romney spotlight, which burned hot because the party was never really sold on Mitt Romney as its candidate... but each tumbled aside, or was swept from the stage by the Romney campaign, because he outlasted them.  They never had the strategic resources to capitalize on their Big Moment; they landed punches on him, but not combinations.

And none of the not-Romneys could match his polish and control.  He, in turn, made a number of personal and campaign missteps that burned off his momentum in the general election, but during the primary he never had a self-destruct moment like most of his opponents.  A Republican presidential candidate needs to run a very long, tight race.  Perhaps it's not impossible for a true outsider or renegade to do that, but after 2012 it seems very unlikely, and crowded stages filled with unlikely candidates don't help.  


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