Michele Bachmann's 'Rogue' Response to Obama Is a Reminder to GOP Leaders of Tea Party's Clout
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In the Republican Party, these days it seems that all the children are above average. And Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is surely taking her star turn. Not content to sit out the spotlight while a fellow right-winger from the North Country, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivered the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Bachmann staged her own response at the National Press Club -- livestreamed on the Web site of Tea Party Express, and carried live by CNN.
Ryan is the new chairman of the House Budget Committee; Bachmann chairs the House Tea Party Caucus, which she founded. The caucus chair opened her remarks by saying they were not intended to upstage those of her Wisconsin colleague. "I want to thank the Tea Party Express and Tea Party HD for inviting me to speak this evening," she said. "I'm here at their request and not to compete with the official Republican remarks."
In substance, Bachmann's message was essentially the same as Ryan's -- a series of misleading statements about Obama's steering of the economy, dire warnings about the national debt -- but her tone was more strident. Where Ryan opened with a conciliatory-sounding acknowledgment that Obama inherited "a severe fiscal and economic situation," Bachmann trotted out a chart (PDF) of unemployment numbers under Bush and Obama that nowhere noted the crash of the stock market under the Bush administration. And Bachmann, unlike Ryan, failed to send a kind word out to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who is struggling to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.
Bachmann also offered several of her characteristically wild and unsourced figures, alleging that the administration "may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama's health care bill." She also chided the administration for "telling us which light bulbs to buy."
But for all the behind-the-scenes hand-wringing among Republican leaders over Bachmann goin' rogue, the real bosses of today's Republican Party likely couldn't have been happier. For if House Speaker John Boehner thinks either Ryan or Bachmann answer to him, he's got his head in the clouds. (Boehner may be the recipient of some payback here; he was cool to Bachmann's bid for a spot in the House leadership, which ultimately failed.) But both North Country members of Congress answer ultimately to a higher authority: David H. Koch, chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation -- as does the new Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus.
Bachmann is one of Koch's darlings: In August, she laid out, before an Americans For Prosperity Foundation convention, a plan for the phase-out of Social Security that was based largely on Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future." For his part, Ryan won the 2008 " Defender of the American Dream" honor awarded by the Wisconsin Chapter of Americans For Prosperity. That's the same chapter that worked with Reince Priebus, during his chairmanship of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a vote-caging scheme that targeted neighborhoods populated by college students and African Americans in the run-up to the 2010 midterm congressional elections.
Americans For Prosperity also proudly provided Tea Party activists with bus transportation to Ryan's unveiling of his "Roadmap" plan in Madison last May. And Priebus provided AFP with busloads of protesters when it needed them in Madison for an April 2009 protest.
So, Mr. Speaker, you had best get with the program. There's a new boss in town, and he's not you.
For David Koch, last night's post-game antics by competing Republican luminaries was all win-win. The Tea Party crowd got their red meat from Bachmann, with the added bonus of keeping Boehner on his toes. More mainstream Republicans got a softened version of the same message from Ryan. But Bachmann wasn't the only mercenary in the field.
The dons of Tea Party Inc. -- the handful of big-money astroturf groups who bankroll the movement -- surely wouldn't want Senate Minority Mitch McConnell to get off lightly. And so, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also got a spot on the Tea Party Express Web site for his own response to the State of the Union, in which he delivered much the same message as Ryan and Bachmann -- who actually seems to have gotten the idea for her Tea Party Caucus from Rand Paul, who suggested it on a conference call for activists from another of the big Tea Party Inc. groups, FreedomWorks, which was also founded though the largess of David Koch. (Both Koch and FreedomWorks' leaders contend that the two no longer have a financial relationship.)
The senatorial candidacy of Rand Paul, you'll recall, was launched as a challenge to McConnell's own hand-picked protege in his home state. With the backing of Tea Party Inc., Paul vanquished the candidate anointed by the Senate's top Republican -- in McConnell's home state. Ouch.
Oh, and just in case the gun-toting, civil-war-mongering far righties should feel left out, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia took to his Twitter account, piping out the vitriol only a hater could love. As AlterNet reported, it was Broun who, at last April's 2nd Amendment March at the Washington Monument, pointed down the Mall and told the assembled gun owners that the real domestic enemies of the United States were his congressional colleagues.
Tonight, Broun offered this tweet: "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism."