Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Michele Bachmann Sarah Palin's Phil Crane?

Another brilliant article by our friend Brices Crossroads... ~ teledude

Free Republic
by Brices Crossroads
The 2012 Election cycle is shaping up in many ways to be a mirror image of the 1980 election, which brought the Country and the world the great Ronald Reagan. The Democrats are set to renominate another monumentally failed and politically weak President, as they did with Jimmy Carter in 1980. The GOP Establishment is threatened, genuinely threatened, for the first time since Reagan menaced it thirty years ago, by the advent of a new Conservative superstar, Sarah Palin. And the Establishment champion who is designated to slay the new Conservative dragon? Well, you might say, "The cupboard has never been barer before." In Mitt Romney, the Establishment is fielding its weakest candidate in memory, an unskilled and stiff politician freighted with a legacy of big government, social liberalism and mandates in an election cycle in which libertarianism and the TEA party are ascendant. In other words, he needs help. Lots of help.

The Establishment failed to lure its first choice for a stalking horse, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, into the race. It has had to settle for three term Congressman Michele Bachmann and is busily engaged, through its media organs in pumping her up as the new Palin. Even some of the Conservative talk show hosts whom I respect (such as Mark Levin) have taken to lumping Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann (and even poor Herman Cain) in the same group of conservatives who are being "savaged" by the Establishment. (Comparing the treatment received by Michele Bachmann with that of Sarah Palin--rendering it for all intents and purposes, equivalent--is like comparing some light hazing at the SAE house on a sunny Saturday afternoon to twenty years in the Gulag Archipelago). Have we ever seen anything like this before, that is: a supposed conservative stalwart trying to take out the main Conservative threat to the Establishment?

Well, yes we have. For those who don't remember, including even those radio talk show hosts who worked on Reagan 's 1976 and 1980 campaigns, and should remember, let me take you all on a little walk down memory lane.

During the 1980 Cycle, there was a six term Congressman from Illinois, Phil Crane, who was a leader in the conservative movement. In 1976, he had been Chairman of Reagan 's Illinois Primary campaign against President Ford. In 1978, he became Chairman of the American Conservative Union, which was gaining notoriety and funds for its high profile opposition to President Carter's Panama Canal giveaway and to the SALT II Arms limitation treaty with the Soviets. Also, in July 1978, a full 18 months before Reagan himself declared in November 1979, Crane announced that he would seek the Presidency in 1980. Crane tried to pose himself as a younger Reagan, "Reagan without wrinkles", one of his supporters said. Although it was patently obvious to all that Ronald Reagan was preparing his own run for the Presidency, Crane publicly stated his belief that Reagan would not run. (Sound familiar?)

And what was Reagan's reaction to this? Publicly, he was his sunny optimistic self, laughing off the age issue and declining to attack Crane. But privately? As Craig Shirley recounts (at page 33) in his epic story of the 1980 Campaign, "Rendezvous with Destiny", Reagan was hopping mad about Phil Crane's betrayal :
"Reagan was not happy about any of this. Earlier, Crane had as much as told Reagan's men that he would support Reagan again. Worse, Crane threatened to compromise Reagan's support among New Right leaders. Richard Viguerie, for example, joined Crane's direct mail fundraising. Although Crane was nowhere in the polls, he had assets. The America Conservative Union claimed 300,000 members. He had written three books, including 'Surrender in Panama', and had a nationally syndicated column...CRANE KNEW HIS CHANCES FOR WINNING THE 1980 NOMINATION WERE SLIM, BUT IF A MODERATE LIKE HOWARD BAKER OR GEORGE BUSH WON THE NOMINATION, THE CANDIDATE WOULD NEED A CONSERVATIVE RUNNING MATE TO CREATE A UNIFIED CONVENTION AND PARTY. AND IF CRANE SHAVED A FEW POINTS FROM REAGAN IN THE PRIMARIES AND IN SO DOING COST REAGAN THE NOMINATION, WELL, c'est la vie." [emphasis supplied].

But was Crane consequential? Yes and No. He did not succeed in denying Reagan the nomination, as he had pretty clearly intended to do. But he did have an impact on the nomination race. Thanks in part to Reagan's failure (as a result of bad advice) to engage in any retail politicking in Iowa, he was narrowly beaten by George H.W. Bush in the 1980 caucuses, 32-30. Indeed, Crane succeeded in his goal to "shave a few points from Reagan" in Iowa. The seven per cent Crane received in the Hawkeye state came almost entirely out of Reagan's hide. Had the Gipper had five days instead of five weeks, to recover in the New Hampshire primary, George H.W. Bush would likely have won the Granite state primary and, with it, the GOP nomination.

Can Michele Bachmann have a similar impact on the 2012 race? While that certainly appears to be her intent, no serious observer actually believes that she can defeat Romney or any other Establishment candidate any more than Phil Crane could have done in 1980. Like Bachmann, Crane's campaign was motivated by personal ambition, the desire for the Vice Presidency on a ticket headed by a moderate. However, there the similarities between Bachmann and Crane begin and end.

Crane's campaign was not so transparently a stalking horse operation as is Bachmann's. It boasted not just Viguerie, but New Right heavyweights such as Paul Weyrich. In short, there were no Establishment fingerprints on Crane's operation. It seemed to most observers to be a pure challenge to Reagan from the Right. Bachmann's campaign is top heavy with Establishmentarians, most notably (but not exclusively) Ed Rollins. Unlike Crane in 1978-80, she has received warm, recent and conspicuous praise from CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and other lamestream media pipe organs, lending further support to the belief that she is engaged in a mission of which they approve. The Establishment's failure to promote Crane as a stalking horse may have been its fatal error of the 1980 cycle, and it was a direct result of its refusal to take the prospect of a Reagan nomination seriously. Make no mistake, the Establishment takes the prospect of Palin's nomination (and election) very seriously and it is responding accordingly.

Another distinction between Bachmann and Crane is that Crane's decision to run against Reagan was much less a frank betrayal than is Bachmann's challenge to Palin. To be sure, Reagan and his men considered it such, as did William Loeb, the influential publisher of New Hampshire's Manchester Union Leader (Rendezvous with Destiny, p.47). Crane had been a Reagan SUPPORTER, who was now deciding after a period of several years, to challenge the Gipper for a number of arguably valid reasons, most prominently his advanced age. Michele Bachmann is more properly characterized as a BENEFICIARY, a very recent beneficiary, of Sarah Palin who campaigned for her in a tough reelection fight just six months ago and raised boatloads of money for her, some of which is being used to pay Establishment "hit men" like Rollins to slime Palin. This leaves many voters, not just Palin supporters, with a queasy feeling about Bachmann and her character. Crane had no such problem with grass roots conservatives.

Can Bachmann succeed in derailing Palin or at least damaging her in the way Crane did to Reagan in Iowa? In another election cycle against another conservative candidate, I would say it was possible. Bachmann's is the third in a series of challenges from right wing long shots against more prominent, more nominatable conservative candidates. The first was Crane's challenge to Reagan. The second was Pat Buchanan's challenge to Phil Gramm in Louisiana and Iowa in 1996. Gramm was positioned as the conservative alternative to the Establishment champion, the ancient Bob Dole. He planned to ride momentum from victories in the Louisiana and Alaska Caucuses to a strong showing in Iowa, where Dole was favored and then defeat Dole in New Hampshire (where he was weak), before the race turned south where Gramm would sew it up.

It was a good plan with a very good chance of success. However, Buchanan mounted a vigorous challenge to Gramm, painting the very conservative Texan as "soft" on embryonic stem cell research. He shocked Gramm, defeating him badly in neighboring Louisiana, a loss that crippled Gramm and likely ended his campaign. Buchanan went on to finish a close second to Dole in Iowa and defeat him in New Hampshire before the Establishment closed ranks against Buchanan and Dole secured the nomination. The upshot of the Buchanan challenge is that it eliminated Phil Gramm, whom the Establishment might have tolerated but did not want.

The problem with a successful challenge by Bachmann to Palin is two fold. Bachmann lacks the credibility with conservatives which Buchanan had achieved as of 1996, both in his work for Reagan and in his strong challenge to Bush 41 in the 1992 primaries. And Phil Gramm, a good conservative to be sure, is in no sense the political equal of Sarah Palin. Palin, like Reagan, is a transformational candidate with a huge national following that will stick with her through thick and thin. She veritably crackles with charisma. Poor Gramm, with his slow Texas drawl, was ripe target for the acerbic, quick witted Buchanan. Palin, it must be admitted by even her detractors, gives as good as she gets.

So, based on a historical analysis of other long shot candidacies in the recent past, it does not seem to me that Bachmann's challenge to Palin will turn out to be much more than a rather expensive snipe hunt, brought to you by the Establishment (specifically Mitt Romney), in which Bachmann will play her proper part but which, in the final analysis, is unlikely to succeed.

If, however, Bachmann's fool's errand does succeed, where Phil Crane's failed, it will mean the nomination not of Michele Bachmann but of Mitt Romney. If that happens, some of the conservative pundits who are railing against the Establishment, and recalling that the "Establishment threw everything they had at Reagan...[Howard] Baker, [George]Bush and [Bob]Dole", will be forced to concede that they forgot that it was a conservative quisling from within our own ranks who very nearly derailed the Gipper in 1980, Phil Crane, and would have been perfectly happy with a moderate like Baker or Bush, especially if it advanced his [Crane's] ambitions.

Reagan and his men never trusted or had anything to do with Crane again. They despised him for his treachery. While both Howard Baker and George Bush were welcomed into the Administration, Crane went from ascendant star in the conservative movement to a backbencher. Conservatives sometimes need to be reminded of the same history that we all lived through.


  1. Wow, thanks for this history lesson! I voted against Reagan first time around and for the Dems. I learned my lesson and switched parties next election and pulled for the Gipper. I am very pro Sarah and will do what i can to support her.

  2. Victory Film Group and ARC Entertainment announced today that Governor Sarah Palin and her husband Todd will attend the premiere of The Undefeated at the historic Pella Opera House on Tuesday June 28 at 5pm Central Time in Pella, Iowa. Immediately after the showing, Victory Film Group and ARC Entertainment will host a traditional Iowa cookout to thank the Pella Opera House and the people of Pella.

    Victory Film Group