Kicking off Republicanpalooza 2011—otherwise known as CPAC—Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for conservative unity in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. In recent weeks, internal fights have revealed major fault lines in the national party: social conservatives, including Mike Huckabee and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-La.) have boycotted CPAC over the inclusion of gay conservative group GOProud, and on Capitol Hill, tea party freshmen have revolted against Speaker John Boehner on spending cuts and the extension of the Patriot Act.
A potential 2012 contender for president, Bachmann presented herself as a unifying figure for conservatives in disarray, despite her own reputation as a far-right flamethrower. Almost seeming to evoke Christine O’Donnell’s infamous campaign slogan—”I am you”—Bachmann told the crowd:
You’re also a very broad-based coalition. Some of you who are gathered here today, all of your passion is about fiscal conservatism, and I am one of you. And for some of you are here, your passion is about defending the moral values that grounded this country, and I am one of you. And some of you are all about national security and making sure we continue our legacy of peace through strength—I am one of you.
That being said, Bachmann devoted the bulk of her speech to fiscal concerns, railing against Obama’s “socialism” and “evil bureaucrats” and warning the college students in the crowd that the government could end up taking away “75 percent” of their income in taxes. She paid only the briefest lip service to social issues and national security, focusing instead on the political goalposts of retaking the White House and gaining control of the Senate. In line with the new tea party slant of the GOP, she roused the crowd by chanting the New Hampshire state slogan: “Live Free or Die! Live Free or Die!”
But the recent revolts on the right have shown that Republicans could struggle to hold together their coalition in the run-up to 2012, now that they have the reins to govern in the House. Though Bachmann herself had ample praise for Boehner in her speech, she also railed against raising the debt ceiling—another looming civil war that could pit the tea party against the leadership in the GOP. Bachmann’s love for incendiary rhetoric may indeed draw her support from diverse corners of the Republican base, but she’s yet to cut the same profile with social conservatives and security hawks as the likes of Sarah Palin. Her call for unity may have presidential undertones, but it may not have real legs.