Posted on | April 11, 2014 | 21 Comments
The suggestion that Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee might consider a 2016 Republican presidential campaign is encouraging. One does not wish to see the GOP play a “Me, Too” game of identity politics with the Democrats, yet conservatives must be realistic and practical in our approach to electoral marketing strategy. The reality is that Republicans have been stigmatized as the Party of Old Rich White Guys and the optics of politics in the TV age require that this stigma be visibly counteracted. It will not suffice merely for GOP officials to say they are diverse; seeing is believing, and Republicans must provide the public visual evidence of their claim to represent all Americans.
Republicans actually are more diverse than the “Old Rich White Guys” stereotype would suggest, and the presence of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in the 2012 GOP primary field helped demonstrate that. Neither Bachmann nor Cain were tokens. Both of them were strong conservative voices, popular with Tea Party activists, and each at one point led the entire primary field. Bachmann surged immediately after her June 2011 entry into the race and in August 2011 won the Iowa GOP straw poll. In the debates, Bachmann inflicted some of the most damaging blows against one-time frontrunner Texas Gov. Rick Perry. And when Perry’s campaign sagged, Cain surged ahead in polls on the basis of his business-minded arguments and his populist appeal.
Well, what about Marsha Blackburn? She’s one of the most powerful Republican women in the House and has for years shown her mastery of policy issues in media appearances. And let me warn anyone who cares to know, that lady is tough as a hell.
We were in Tampa for the Republican convention in 2012 and Blackburn was a VIP guest at Blog Bash. During the pre-event reception, about five or six of us New Media types were in sort of an informal circle around Blackburn when I got the crazy idea to ask her about a controversy that had occurred during a meeting of the RNC platform committee on which Blackburn served.
Blackburn cut me a glance that froze my blood. Her hostility to my question was so evident that Ali Akbar, who was part of the group clustered around her, just walked away in horror at my faux pas.
Exactly what Blackburn said in answer to my question, I’ve forgotten, but the underlying message was clear: Don’t ever ask me a question like that again or I will be forced to destroy you.
It seems unlikely that Blackburn would actually enter the 2012 GOP field. She’s got a solid position in the House now, and the odds are against her winning the nomination, simply because House members don’t have the kind of broad-based political machinery that a Senator or Governor can bring into a presidential campaign. On the other hand, a White House run would help raise her national profile, and could put her on the short list for the vice presidency or a Cabinet post in a future Republican administration.
Anyway, it’s encouraging to see Blackburn’s name mentioned for 2016 and, if she does run, political journalists should consider themselves warned: Don’t cross her. That lady’s tough as hell.