– by Josh Painter
Sarah Palin’s strategy of staying out of the early battles for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is increasingly looking like a very wise plan, as her would-be rivals seem intent on taking shots at each other, and in some cases, shooting at their own feet.
It’s not yet August, and just look how the two Minnesotans in the scrum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty are pummeling each other:
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Bachmann in a statement released by her campaign, taking Pawlenty to task over health care, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and cap-and-trade legislation.
“Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, ‘The era of small government is over … The government has to be more proactive and more aggressive,’” said Bachmann. “That’s the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan.”
Bachmann’s decision to engage Pawlenty marks a major change in strategy for the Minnesota congresswoman. But is it a sign that she is worried about Pawlenty’s progress in Iowa in advance of the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll, or simply that she was fed up?
Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s campaign manager, insisted in an email to The Fix that his candidate “just [got] tired of [Pawlenty] taking cheap shots” and decided to respond. “Even if he’s at 2 percent in the polls, we are not going to let anyone take free shots at us.”
Pawlenty has been goading Bachmann for weeks as he seeks to make up ground against her in Iowa — a state seen as a must-win for both candidates’ chances in the 2012 presidential race.
Pawlenty’s main attack on Bachmann is that she lacks any record of achievement, and it appears that Pawlenty’s comments to CNN’s Candy Crowley along those lines are what set Bachmann off.
In an interview that aired Sunday, Pawlenty said that “these are really serious times and there hasn’t been somebody who went [directly] from the U.S. House of Representatives to the presidency, I think, in over a hundred years, and there’s a reason for that.”
Though it remains to be seen if Pawlenty’s attacks on Bachmann will ultimately be successful, her campaign’s decision to get into a slugging contest with with the former governor may indicate that Ed Rollins’ internal polling may indicate that Pawlenty has been making up some ground on her in advance of the Ames Straw Poll.
Businessman Herman Cain appears to be leading the GOP pack in the number of self-inflicted wounds he’s suffered. Cain came out of the gate strong, but a series of foreign policy position blunders have removed much of the shine from his rising star, as Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan S. Tobin recounted early last month:
You may recall that at the South Carolina GOP presidential debate he said he had no idea what to do about Afghanistan but would consult with experts about it. Later he said he would come up with a plan sometime between his election in November 2012 and his inauguration the following January. Then he was asked about the Palestinian right of return by Chris Wallace on Fox News and had no idea what he was talking about. He later said that he was reading a book about Israel but wouldn’t say what book it was. This week he said he would go to Israel to join a Glenn Beck rally.
Last night, as The Hill notes, Cain went on the Bill O’Reilly show to further showcase the fact that he knows about as much about the dangers facing the world abroad as many of us do about the intricacies of managing a fast food franchise. O’Reilly asked him what he would do to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and all he could say in reply was that he would work for energy independence for the United States. That’s a good cause but as O’Reilly tried to put out to Cain, it wouldn’t do anything about the terrible danger to the West that Iranian nukes pose.
Cain may be a good man and he may even be on the right side on these issues, as his instinct to support Israel seems to show. But the point about Cain and foreign policy is not just that he’s not very knowledgeable about such things. It’s that he is so self-confident about his abilities that it seemingly hasn’t occurred to him that this ignorance is a liability.
Herman Cain is a political neophyte, and his inexperience at least somewhat excuses his missteps. But Newt Gingrich, a veteran of many political campaigns, can claim no such excuses. He was the first of the GOP presidential pretenders to self-destruct, and the list of his stumbles runs from losing most of his campaign staff only days after his formal announcement to his inexplicable attack on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to reform Medicare. Now the Gingrich bandwagon seems to be a one-horse parade mired hopelessly:
For a host of party leaders, Gingrich seems to have proven with astonishing speed that he deserves his reputation as an undisciplined, self-destructive, shoot-from-the-lip politician. His flair for provocative rhetoric, combined with his desire to make loftier political points, might make him too combustible for the presidential campaign trail.
“The problem for Newt is, this is exactly what everybody who has ever worked for or around him said was his basic problem,” said Rich Galen, the veteran Republican strategist and former Gingrich aide. “Sooner or later, I suspect, unfortunately, the campaign will collapse from the top because people are going to say, ‘I love him and he’s really smart, but he can’t be president.’”
The campaign, Galen added, is “close to being functionally over.”
Little wonder that Republicans, in poll after poll, have indicated that they are generally unimpressed with the field of announced candidates so far. Meanwhile, Gov. Palin has told her supporters to keep their powder dry and has even encouraged grassroots organizers in Iowa to keep up their good work on her behalf. As she stands on the sidelines, Sarah Palin can see Gov. Rick Perry doing pretty much the same thing on the opposite side of the field. As many have speculated, when those two get into the race, the game will have changed in the blinking of an eye.
Cross-posted from Texans for Sarah Palin