Palin and Bachmann Are Crowding Out the Republican 2012 Field

Palin and Bachmann will use Tea Party leverage to paint the rest of the field into the far right corner.

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Four years ago today, Barack Obama announced his run for the presidency before thousands gathered to witness the beginning of his historic march to the White House. Hillary Clinton had already declared as well. Even then, fully 19 months before Election Day, the energy and excitement was palpable. The crowds were building, the fundraising was accelerating, and the campaigns were organizing in a big way.

Now, 19 months out from Election Day 2012, the GOP presidential field remains unformed. There’s a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is that two potential candidates flutter lots of hearts in the Republican base: Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. And they’re tying their own party in knots. [Read more about the 2012 election.]

Often indecipherable, but completely inescapable—they are the only Republican hopefuls Saturday Night Live bothers parodying with any regularity. There’s Sarah on Hannity and Facebook, dominating and debasing the conversation around the Tucson shootings. There’s Michele, responding to the Republican response (!) to the State of the Union, flubbing and muddying the GOP’s message.

It’s Bachmann-Palin overload, and it’s sucking up precious oxygen as other GOP candidates struggle for traction. Smart Republican strategists have got to be worried. Because while neither Palin nor Bachmann has a scintilla of appeal to the independent and moderate voters who decide general elections, both do have the name recognition, fundraising prowess and loyal support on the far right that decides GOP primaries. [See editorial cartoons about the Republican Party.]

Hard-core Republicans are cheering Palin on as she hogs the spotlight and says the darndest things. She polls among the leaders in most state-by-state surveys; she’s undoubtedly a real threat to consolidate the right wing and Tea Party vote in GOP primaries. [See photos of Palin and her family.]

But today, I would bet Mitt Romney’s stock portfolio that Sarah does not run. Palin cares about two things: money and celebrity. Reality TV is easy. Actually building a real campaign is hard, kinda like being governor, and she got bored with that. I see her stringing the GOP along for months with “will she or won’t she” speculation, maximizing exposure for her own purposes before actually bailing.[See a roundup of political cartoons on Palin.]

But fear not, comedians! Palin’s not going anywhere. She will wield considerable influence whether she’s an actual candidate or not. A “Palin Primary” for her endorsement will have all the dignity of American Idol auditions.  And through it all, Palin will keep talking… and talking… and talking, pushing the GOP further and further right.

Michele Bachmann clearly wants Sarah’s mantle and seems to believe that she can play in GOP presidential politics. She may be right. Somebody’s gonna be the Tea Party candidate, and Bachmann may be better positioned than any other Republican. Once she figures out which camera to look at, she’s got the whole “Obama is a socialist” tripe down pat, and, sadly, that plays well in today’s GOP. The ambition to actually hold office that Palin lacks, Bachmann has in spades, and it will be awesome and potentially hilarious to behold. [See a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

So grab the remote and watch as Romney, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Daniels, Gingrich, Huntsman, and Thune (if they run) contort themselves to match Palin and Bachmann’s celebrity and ideological intensity.

Marvel as Sarah and Michele leverage their Tea Party influence to paint the rest of the field into the far right corner of the political landscape while Limbaugh and Beck hand out brushes.

But also pause for a moment, no matter what your political persuasion, and lament that while Palin and Bachmann run riot, women with actual credentials, like Christie Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Olympia Snowe, wander the political wilderness with about as much chance of winning a GOP primary as Michael Moore does of keynoting CPAC.

For sure, Democrats face real challenges in 2012. No one can look at the midterm results and see anything but tough sledding ahead. But with President Obama’s approval rating rising, the economy improving, and Republicans grappling with Bachmann-Palin overload, 2011 is off to a great start.

And you ain't seen nothin' yet.

  • See a slide show of the 10 best cities to find a job.
  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party and on Sarah Palin.
  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.