Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech to the National Press Club might have been an opportunity for the Tea Party’s heroine to fire a shot across the bow of her longtime antagonists in the GOP leadership–coming only hours before the vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. Instead, the presidential candidate was careful to express her admiration for Boehner, even though she said she wouldn’t vote for any measure—including his—that raised the debt ceiling.
While almost all of her fire was directed at President Obama, Bachmann made it clear she wouldn’t vote for any compromise measure. If the cut, cap and balance plan passed by the House last week didn’t meet her approval, there was no way she was going to back Boehner’s second try at a debt ceiling solution. But her opposition to Boehner was not personal (she repeatedly praised Boehner’s efforts to solve the problem), nor did she treat the possibility of the House passing his bill as a calamity. In fact, she seemed to treat its passage as a fait accompli that would once again put the ball in the Democrats’ court. In other words, Bachmann gave the impression she would not be displeased were Boehner to succeed today but wanted no share of the responsibility for passing it.
Bachmann came into Congress as a purist on all sorts of issues, and her stand on the debt ceiling is no different than the rest of her positions. She can get away with that because unlike Boehner, she isn’t responsible for maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States. That allows her to say there will be no default while simultaneously asserting she will vote for no measure that would prevent one. There are those who will say that’s a ridiculous contradiction, but not to her.
Until she is elected president (an admitted long shot), she can afford to speak about the way she wants the world to work rather than how it does work. After all, Bachmann is right that Obamacare ought to be repealed, and a debt solution without eliminating that major new entitlement is absurd. She’s also right that the United States should spend less and the involvement of the federal government in so much of our lives needs to be ended. But if she were ever elected president, she’d have to accept the reality of divided government and deal with it. But until then, she’s free to run on her principles and to avoid getting her hands dirty, as Boehner must.
Yet, it must be noted her non-confrontational approach to the Speaker’s bill marks a distinct change in tone from her days as a bomb-throwing backbencher. It signals she is serious about being the GOP nominee and wants to be the person who will unite it next fall in the struggle against Obama. That may not happen, but it is clear despite her ideological purity on the issues, she is thinking about the big presidential picture–not settling scores with her critics in the GOP leadership.