Trump and Bachmann crowd Palin’s space
By Dan Balz
Sarah Palin has a problem. Of course, she’s long had problems, her detractors say. But even they would concede that she has been a political celebrity virtually without peer in her party and a Republican who seemed to have perfect pitch with at least part of the conservative base.
Now, as she weighs whether to run for president in 2012, Palin has competition on both fronts. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who appears to be moving aggressively toward a presidential candidacy, threatens to steal many of those core conservatives as Palin deliberates. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, with the flamboyance and egocentric showmanship that has marked his business career, threatens to eclipse Palin, for now, as the mega-celebrity of 2012 GOP politics.
Palin has endured some difficult months this year. Her troubles began in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings in January and her “blood libel” video, which drew criticism even from some Republicans and put her on the defensive. Her favorability ratings have fallen. In Iowa, a state that would seem tailor-made for her style of conservative politics, many GOP activists are decidedly cool to her as a possible presidential candidate — even those who say they admire her.
Her potential rivals for the GOP nomination, with a few exceptions, are all taking steps to ready their candidacies. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty filed a presidential committee with the Federal Election Commission on Monday. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is building a money network while biding his time before becoming a formal candidate. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is traveling energetically to the early states as he approaches decision day. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is virtually living in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is a candidate in all but name only.
Palin has done nothing of the sort, unless she has done it by stealth. She travels to India and Israel but has made no trips to Iowa or New Hampshire. She has done no serious work in recruiting a presidential staff. Her “inner circle” remains far-flung. Only former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee appears as ambivalent about whether to run.
Politically, Bachmann has moved to fill that vacuum on the right. In contrast to Palin, she is focused intensely on Iowa. She is making several appearances there this week, including a home-school event Wednesday and Saturday’s forum hosted by Iowa Rep. Steve King’s political action committee that will draw several other prospective candidates. She has not been shy about expressing interest in setting up an exploratory committee.
Bachmann has begun to make an impression in Iowa among both religious and fiscal conservatives. Like Palin, she excites the base with her strong, uncompromising message. She can speak tea party with the best in her party. She appears fearless, whether in dealing with House Republican leaders or potential presidential rivals. She might be at least a bit more impervious to criticism than Palin. Activists want to hear more from her.