by Paul Goldman
With Congresswoman Bachmann Turner Overdrive saying she isn’t going to take care of the nation’s business – she is voting no on any bill that raises the debt ceiling no matter what – this puts George Allen at the fork in the road, ala Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway.”
George, like Hank’s character, as been out of the loop of things for 5+ years, ever since going “macaca” on us. Now, he has the leader of the Tea Party going “Meshugenah,” a word his mother would have used quite frequently, as did mine.
It may be that Mrs. Turner Overdrive is isolating herself on the far right of the Tea Party. This will depend, in part, on the upcoming House vote over the debt-ceiling deal. Right now, it is difficult to know, without actually seeing the details of what is being hashed out at the White House.
One suspects Senator Jimmy Meshugemint is likely to oppose the deal, and previously, he has taken the GOP House members from the Palmetto State, a key primary venue next year, with him. My hunch is this: As I have written, Bachmann needs the Tea Party to have any chance of winning the GOP nomination. Given that fact, a NO vote by Bachmann would be her preferred way to go, at least until she sees a break in the anti-Boehner-dealing Tea Party ranks, as she attempts to demonstrate her promised “titanium” spine.
Moreover, remember what the infamous Charlie Crist hug of President Obama over the stimulus plan: it cost the once very popular GOP chief executive a 40-point lead and the primary to Senator Marco Rubio.
Do Tea Partiers really think they can explain how they voted the same way on this bill as Nancy Pelosi, who is going to say she did it at the urging of President Obama?
Bottom line: At least right now, the odds favor Bachmann Turner Overdrive to be singing the Tea Party tune come deal voting time.
Meaning: It is gut check time for George Allen. So far, he has played it super safe, refusing to back any of the legislative proposals passed by Boehner/Cantor. That’s okay so far, one can always say they want something better, most people will accept that as the process moves along.
But now it is fish or cut bait time.
The Bachmann Turner Overdrive wing of the GOP is going to vote NO. The Boehner/Cantor wing is going to vote YES. We can presume Mitt Romney will be a YES, we shall see what the others say.
George Allen may catch a break, that a unified position, or at least something close enough, will emerge which can be considered the “safe” vote. But it is as likely as not that the BTO wing will now have a new issue to challenge “business as usual” in Washington, DC, at least in terms of appealing to their constituents.
In the past, crossing the far-right-wing on such a high-profile issue has made them turn against you in the primary polls, even for a less-than-credible candidate.
Allen can almost surely shut off any primary challenge by siding with the BTO wing. But he could badly damage his credibility with key general election swing voters.
The politics: If Allen sides with BTO, the he is betting for a revolution at the polls in 2012. Otherwise, against a solid, user-friendly candidate like Tim Kaine, he has hurt himself quite a bit.
However, by joining Kaine in backing the debt deal, Allen may get some bipartisan bona fides, yet he provides the first real red meat for a Tea Party primary challenger to find traction.
So let’s play prediction: I bet George Allen backs Boehner/Cantor/McConnell on this, meaning that he gets the symbolic hug from the President.
Why? If he thinks “macaca” was a problem in 2006, trying be “meshugenah” in 2012. Leading is choosing, and choosing in politics is often picking the least worst political option.
A NO vote has a certain purity to it that makes for good speeches and gives you a lot of options should the economy stay in the funk. That’s okay perhaps for Bachmann. She has adopted a purely primary strategy and will worry about the general election if, and only if, she wins the nomination.
Allen faces a different equation. He is presumed to be the nominee. He is also seen as a former chief executive; that is to say, someone who knows how to deliver the mail. So, swing voters wouldn’t expect Allen to Just Say No when America needs a solution to avoid default.
Net, net: A defining moment for George Allen’s 2012 ambitions. If he feels his conservative street cred is so insufficient that he must follow BTO, then he may be a far weaker candidate than his backers realize.