By Paul Goldman
Earth to the 24/7 Media Commentariat: Do you know how to play the game at all? Last night’s GOP debate was all about the Ames Straw Poll, at least for those who are serious candidates and commentators. Forget next year or even next week, that’s not how the game is played when you are running a campaign.
“If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with” said Crosby, Stills and Nash, or something like that.
Politics is all about “loving the one you’re with” which is to say the first big event of the 2012 campaign is the Ames Straw Poll for one simple reason: finally, something approaching a group of real people, albeit not a representative sample, get to say who they like the most.
Admittedly, this straw poll doesn’t have a very high predictive value about what will ultimately happen in the Iowa Caucus next year, much less the general election. But finally, after all the 24/7 Commentariat cuts, slams, predictions, something other than paid noise makers gets to have a say and it will take center stage.
So, to those who know the game of running a campaign, they had one goal only: Winning votes in the straw poll, the rest of the nation not so much.
This is why TPAW had no choice but to take on BTO, Bachmann Turner Overdrive, who has the pedal to the metal right now in Iowa. Former Governor Pawlenty knows this: if he loses to BTO in Ames, he is holding Aces and Eights, the so-called Dead Man’s Hand. Ron Paul has strength at Ames but he is like Haley’s Comet, only with a 4-year Earth orbit, so his pitch never changes.
The winner of Ames gets to say the following: “In the first vote of the people, I won.” Romney won the poll in 2008, so he wisely played down the event this year, since it was all downside for him in the expectations game.
Expectations: That’s the game. The media has set it up for Bachmann, calling her the Queen of Rage, making her into a loony, and now asking that offensive question about her marriage.
I thought Bachmann handled it with grace last night. When Hillary was running, did they ask her about the state of her marriage? Out of fear for their lives I would hope not. I’ts no one’s business unless you can show it is a clear and present danger to the country the candidate wants to lead.
Back to the basics: Pawlenty is behind Bachmann in the MO category in Iowa and this usually spells L-O-S-E-R going into a straw poll. TPAW simply can’t afford for BTO to win on Saturday night; it could be the end of his campaign in terms of having any chance of getting out of the Iowa Caucuses on anything but a political gurney next winter, if he can even last that long. A loss to BTO on Saturday could mean an early exit for Pawlenty. He showed me that worry last night.
So, TPAW went after BTO as hard as he thought possible without the attack backfiring. That’s why he didn’t go after Romney hard as the pundits wanted: it’s all about Ames, which for TPAW clearly means stopping BTO.
Bachmann showed me incredible discipline in sticking to her Ames Straw poll strategy patented after Lou Rawls, the great singer with that great line from a big hit song: “If it feels this good getting used, then you can keep on using me until you use me up.”
BTO has positioned herself as the agent of the “people” and wants Ames voters to use her to send a message to Washington about the debt-ceiling deal and the like.
For BTO, it is a shrewd strategy, as it fits her narrative. She can hit the right music — it is her really, a protest candidate at heart. “Use me” to send Washington a message could be a hugely powerful emotion at Ames. It is surely her best hope for a big win, or any win perhaps.
If they do a sequel to “Dr. No”, she gets the lead. “What is there about NO you don’t understand?” asked singer Lorrie Morgan. When it comes to BTO, she knows everything there is to know about No.
My prediction: Bachmann won over more skeptical Ames straw poll voters than Pawlenty on the issue of the day among GOP voters, looking for a way to express their rage at the system.
This is the first time they get a chance.
They voted for Romney the last time. Three months ago, with Romney not actively competing, it figured to be next-door-neighbor Pawlenty who knew the Corn State was make or break for him. He spent huge on the straw poll.
Then Bachmann Turner Overdrive started a concert tour of Iowa, the music blaring to her hit single “Till Debt Do Us Part.”
She has played her strength full out in Iowa. All the pundits say her “Hell NO” record is totally irresponsible. But this is politics, not governing.
Yes, on an historic basis, BTO has nothing in her record to suggest qualifications for the Presidency. The last sitting member of the House to win the White House was retiring former Speaker James Garfield, who had been elected to the Senate. No member since has ever been nominated for the Presidency.
Pawlenty said BTO was all talk, no results. I thought it was a silly argument, as it suggested he would compromise, leaving her as the true fighter to the end. Did he ever hear about The Alamo? In times like these, people like a fighter especially in the out-party. There is a reason no one on the stage last night except apparently Huntsman would have voted for the debt-ceiling deal.
So: What point was Pawlenty making?
Winner: BTO. She is stronger today in the Ames poll than yesterday in my view.
If she wins the straw poll – and it will give her bragging rights that are so important in politics – then her debate performance may have sealed the deal.
Nothing else mattered last night, as will be clear come Sunday morning when the Ames straw poll results battle with Governor Perry’s presidential announcement for the 24/7 noise machine lead.