A Commentary By Susan Estrich
For a Democrat, it's too good to be true. Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney running neck and neck in Iowa. Romney having to worry about the one in five who won't vote for a Mormon, and Bachmann hiring a cadre of top Republican consultants, starting with Ed Rollins and Ed Goeas.
Is the sun shining on Barack Obama or what? This is better than Donald Trump. At least he could lay some claim to business expertise, even if many of his projects were too big -- not too successful -- to fail. As for Bachmann, she is better known as a cable television staple than as someone who has accomplished anything at all in Congress, apart from the Congressional Tea Party Caucus. No legislative experience, no executive experience, no business experience. Perfect -- for the Iowa caucuses anyway.
I know there's someone out there saying: But what about Obama? So let's get that out of the way at the outset. Obama had serious credentials from his years in the Senate and, before that, in the Illinois Senate. He was known as a man of ideas. Agree or not with those ideas, no one was asking if he was a "flake." It's just not a word that you connect with Obama. I was a Hillary supporter, but not for a minute did I doubt that Obama was extraordinary.
There are a number of Republicans whom I view as competent to hold themselves out for the presidency. Mitt Romney is certainly one, as is Jon Huntsman. I don't know Tim Pawlenty, but many people I respect speak well of him. I do know Newt Gingrich, and frankly, he is one of the smartest and most original thinkers I have met in politics. I'm leaving Sarah Palin out because I don't for a minute believe she is running, but even she was a respected governor.
Bachmann? The Christine O'Donnell of campaign 2012. Remember how that caused Republicans to lose a Senate seat they were counting on. That's what happens when it's all ideology and no competence.
And that is very often what Iowa is about. If you sat down to come up with a way to choose presidential candidates that would allow unelectable ideologues to be nominated, you couldn't do better than ours. I know: How do you spell George McGovern?
Many of the rules of this game were put in place by my Democratic friends (and by me, I'm in there all over the place beginning in 1981) to ensure that what we called "insurgent" and "non-establishment" candidates would not be eliminated because they lacked the money, endorsements or establishment support that a Romney starts with.
It's not a bad idea in theory, but in practice, it can easily lead to the selection of candidates who aren't "big" enough (running in states like Iowa and New Hampshire bears no resemblance whatsoever to a general election), whose appeal is way too limited (I like Mike Huckabee, but did anyone in 2008 think he could get elected president?), or who are just plain too far off the beaten path.
Like Michele Bachmann.
Could she win in Iowa? Sure. A divided field, a caucus system in which ideologues are the only ones who vote and a message tailored directly to those ideologues with no thought to November, and a woman who has never made an executive decision or passed a bill could wind up on top in Iowa. Her well-paid consultants could certainly make it happen. They could take the victory lap. If you could get Bachmann that far, just think what you could do with a real candidate.
We Democrats could take a victory lap, as well. With Bachmann in the race, let alone taking a commanding position, the qualified candidates would have to meet her on her side of the road -- which is way, way off the road to the White House.
It might just be time for both sides to take a fresh look at the nominating process to ensure that competence matters as much as ideology and that we are picking candidates who can win, not just those we like best. But there is certainly no time for any of that before the Iowa caucuses roll around. The way things are looking now, I can't wait.
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