Lots of Republican candidates offer lip service to the Tea Party. Even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and the definition of the establishment, has nice things to say about them now.It's certainly true that Bachmann will be much more of a full-throated advocate for Tea Partiers than most of the other candidates. What I don't really understand is exactly what that buys Tea Party true believers, other than louder lip service. Are there policy positions that Bachmann would take that differ from those of the other candidates? I don't think so; conservative Republicans dominate the presidential nomination process, and every viable candidate has and will tailor their positions to appeal to movement conservatives. Are there Tea Party positions that differ from other movement conservative positions? Perhaps a few things, on the flaky side (such as repealing direct election of Senators), but other than that? No.
But Ms. Bachmann is a true champion of their cause. If she gets in the race, they will have a voice at debates, during television interviews, and on the stump around the country. She might not win, but Tea Party activists would certainly like to see her try.
Bachmann has, perhaps better than the other candidates in the race, fully absorbed the symbolic side of Tea Party politics, but the others are going to be tossing the words "Constitution" and "liberty" into their stump speeches just as much as she will.
Meanwhile, to the extent that the Tea Partiers really are separate from older branches of movement conservativism, there are several real dangers here for them: first, that Bachmann isn't exactly the most calm, sober, and careful politician around and they risk being branded with whatever nuttiness comes out of her mouth; but second, that they wind up being identified with their flakiest positions (see direct election of Senators, above). That is, if she wants to differentiate herself from the other candidates but cannot easily do so based on policy or even rhetorical differences, she may wind up emphasizing the goofiest stuff. Assuming, that is, that there are other, more mainstream and popular issues, that Tea Partiers would rather focus on.
One other thing worth mentioning about Michele Bachmann. She's the leader of the House Tea Party caucus, which has around 50 Members. And yet I think it's worth noting that she utterly failed to bring those Members with her on the first CR extension vote, a few weeks ago (a total of five Republicans joined her). Now, it's certainly been the case for a long time that clout on the Hill and success on the campaign trail are two entirely different things (as Lyndon Johnson learned in 1960, Howard Baker in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988, and Richard Gephardt in 1988 and 2004). Still, it's worth noting that no one in the House Republican conference feared that breaking with Bachmann would damage them with their Tea Party constituencies. Perhaps a presidential run would increase her stature...perhaps other circumstances would be different. But overall, it sure looks to me, as I said yesterday, that she's far more likely than not to wind up irrelevant to the serious working of choosing a nominee.