Bachmann's Angry Mob

The gray-haired curiosity-seekers assembled by the Tea Party’s Wonder Woman, Michele Bachmann, in D.C. is part of the GOP purge that plays well on cable TV. But the party’s not ready to face its biggest threat.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The gray-haired curiosity-seekers assembled by the Tea Party’s Wonder Woman, Michele Bachmann, in D.C. are part of the GOP purge that plays well on cable TV. But the the party’s not ready to face its biggest threat.

The gathering of Tea Party sorts on Capitol Hill to hear Michele Bachmann and other Republican celebrities speak harshly about speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appears as harmless as kite-flying, until you listen closely and hear the familiar obsessed sounds of cultists and cranks chanting, “Kill the bill! Kill the bill!”

From the podium, Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor contributed trite trash-talk about the pending health-care reform vote in the House, but it was left to the Wonder Woman of the Tea Party, Michele Bachmann (R-MN), to cry out the over-the-top rhetoric that was cheered regardless of its incoherence: “You came. And you came to your house. And you came for an emergency house call. Are they going to listen? Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, they’re going to listen. It was Thomas Jefferson who said a revolution every now and then is a good thing. What do you think?”

The Bachmann star turn followed another Election Day in which the party out of power showed that it has fallen so far from reason that it can celebrate another loss of a House seat.

At noon on a workday in D.C., the 10,000 elderly, unemployed, retired curiosity-seekers, carrying creative signs such as “No!” were not a revolution, nor even the “rebellion” that Boehner claimed he saw. They were gray-haired props for more of the same posturing by what is left of the GOP on the Hill—a collection of clumsy self-promoters, talk show whiners, and impotent pols like Bachmann, as the GOP slips into the grave of a splinter party, undecipherable, unelectable, unmourned.

The Bachmann star turn—a Republican wag remarked, “Only in the insanity of politics could she be regarded as sane and hot”—followed another Election Day in which the party out of power showed that it has fallen so far from reason that it can celebrate another loss of a House seat.

Within hours of the completely unnecessary defeat in the New York 23rd, a result of the sabotage of the Club for Growth and its hirelings, there were chest-thumping boasts from the online precincts of National Review and RedState that a loss is as good as a win, that the true believers had raised up to smite the treacherous turncoat Dede Scozzafava in order to renovate the GOP.

The fact that the party had lost a seat it had held for a century, the fact that the Democrats has just gained another vote and that the GOP was going backward, was not much discussed during the inspired blame-shifting. Rush Limbaugh—who handed the Democrats a rallying point on election eve by smearing Scozzafava with the vulgar pun that she was “guilty of bestiality” with the RINOs (Republicans In Name Only)—blamed the Republican Party “bosses” for picking Scozzafava in the first place, without a primary. It is unclear if Limbaugh is ignorant about what a special election means—that is, a swift general vote to fill an empty seat in Congress—or if it was just inconvenient for him to check his script.

The insipid GOP chairman, Michael Steele, blamed Scozzafava for endorsing the Democratic candidate, Bill Owen. Steele did not answer why he did not call Scozzafava after she dropped out on Saturday morning and appeal to her to endorse conservative Doug Hoffman. Steele did acknowledge that the White House and Albany Democrats such as Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did telephone Scozzafava and persuade her to endorse their side. Again, it is unclear if Steele is ignorant about his role as chairman of all the political voices of the party, especially those who are the party’s nominee with a name on the ballot, or perhaps Steele is just covering up that he feels intimidated by right-wing raconteurs like RedState’s Erick Erickson. Steele’s claim that the party will “get the seat back next year” sounds like the glib agent in the rock ‘n’ roll satire This Is Spinal Tap who rationalized the band’s shrinking audiences by arguing “their appeal is getting more selective.”

Benjamin Sarlin: Bringing Down BachmannThe Club for Growth, wiping off the dagger it drove into the Republican candidate Scozzafava’s back, blamed the Republicans in general for picking anyone but a true conservative. What does true conservative mean to the Club for Growth’s Daddy Warbucks, Jackson Stephens, who paid lavishly to purge Scozzafava, to prop up the clueless Hoffman? In this case, a true conservative resembles someone who can imitate, without smirking, Ayn Rand’s cartoon heroes in Atlas Shrugged, “the Children of Light”: supermen and superwomen who will emerge from their mountain hideaway to rebuild America once the leftists, New Dealers, socialists, and One-Worlders have smashed it up. The Club for Growth may be impatient for the final days in the Republican Party, because immediately after ransacking the 23rd and giving Mrs. Pelosi another vote for health care, the same enthusiasts turned their garbled libertarian hokum against the Senate campaign of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, who is judged to be a RINO or, in the cultish parlance of the initiated, insufficiently unelectable.

After Hoffman’s defeat, Newt Gingrich, who supported Scozzafava as electable in Rockefeller New York, sounded like a wounded possum when he measured the damage that the snobs, barkers, and paranoids are doing in their purge of the Republican Party. Gingrich pointed out that of 39 House seats in New England, the Republican genius at intolerant and insensitive campaigning had now achieved two House members left to the caucus. “Don’t undervalue the last representative,” he tried, appealing for moderation and compromise, “don’t undervalue the last senator, to create a majority.” Where did this newly responsible Gingrich come from, you may puzzle, except as a reaction to the old Gingrich, model for the new new right?

It is too late for Gingrich’s tardy appeal to reach the ears of the suicide belt operation of the RNC, where Steele even now thinks it is his job to threaten those who live in moderate or liberal districts. The scripted carnival of Bachmann is the part of the purge that plays well on cable TV—exuberant seniors, flag-sporting patriots, freshly minted Thomas Jefferson scholars. The killer contract work of the Club for Growth and its kindred of Cain among the conspiracy-minded is the part that will keep Republicans frantic minority of crybabies, rereading Ayn Rand, yearning for America to fail like them.

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John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.