Bachmannia Puts Prying Eyes on Candidate

“Let me be abundantly clear – my ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines and will not affect my ability to serve as commander in chief.”

-- Statement from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on reports that debilitating headaches have often interfered with her official duties

Michele Bachmann is now considered a serious contender for the presidency, and that’s not entirely a good thing for her campaign.

Bachmann has vaulted into second place in the Republican race with polls consistently showing her as the top choice of between 15 and 20 percent of Republicans nationally, a pretty stout number in a splintered field.

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The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is indicative – Bachmann snatches 16 percent of support compared to the 3 percent from a month ago. While frontrunner Mitt Romney is still cruising with 30 percent, the rapid rise of Bachmann has certainly roiled the rest of the field.

Compared to those candidates once considered serious contenders like Tim Pawlenty, who tied the seemingly unelectable Jon Huntsman for last place in the Journal poll with 2 percent, Bachmann looks like a juggernaut.

But her success has also opened the door to increasing scrutiny of her career, personal life and even her health. Reporters don’t have time to trawl through the careers and lives of also-rans, but contenders get both barrels. That Bachmann has been an object of alternating contempt and ridicule by American liberals for many years only intensifies the effect in her case.

Power Play has watched with some amusement the discovery by the establishment press that Bachmann is a formidable politician. Those who were expecting a spittle-flecked lunatic in a tricorn hat have been amazed at her ability to make her arguments effectively and avoid political landmines.

On Tuesday, the Daily Caller Web site laid out claims from unnamed former staffers who said that Bachmann’s frequent migraines often left the congresswoman unable to do her job. FOX News colleague Chad Pergram confirmed that Bachmann has been laid low in the House on multiple occasions. These are not the kinds of problems that put people at ease about a potential commander in chief.

Bachmann, however, responded appropriately, with a short simple statement on the subject. She again prompted those in the press who thought her terminally daffy to express their strange new respect.

But Bachmann will only benefit from exceeding low expectations for so long. The attacks against her are intensifying and will only get uglier.

Some of the swipes, like the jokes from Jon Stewart about her husband’s effeminate mannerisms and homosexuality treatments, will have a Palinic effect. The attacks are so mean that they will deepen sympathy for her.

Other pitfalls, like the migraine questions or the attention being paid to her position on the debt limit, will do lasting damage to her viability. A woman who votes against the intensely conservative House measure calling for deep cuts, hard caps on future spending and a balanced budget amendment because it lacks sufficient fiscal rigor is not the kind of candidate who can easily broaden her appeal to more moderate Republicans.

But even if she can’t ultimately land the nomination, her current success will certainly help determine who does.

The most obvious beneficiary of Bachmannia is Romney, who would dearly love the idea of a two-way race between him, the presidential-looking former governor and businessman, and her, the third-term congresswoman with piquant policy positions. As Mike Huckabee made John McCain a safe haven for anxious GOPers, so too will Bachmann increase Romney’s appeal.

The most obvious victim of the trend is Pawlenty, who has lost his handle on the Iowa caucuses and now has to move further to the right to keep the interest of voters in South Carolina and Florida. He may ultimately benefit if he can stay in the fight long enough and Bachmann’s bubble pops, but that’s an open question for a guy approaching the abyss in public polls.

The wild card here is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The drumbeat for his candidacy is speeding up and conservatives are starting to tingle a bit. But Bachmann makes things complicated for him. If she continues to card big numbers and look viable, she may keep Perry from being able to unite the right against Romney. But, conversely, if Bachmann looks like a serious contender, establishment Republicans may accept Perry as a more palatable alternative and a more formidable opponent for President Obama next fall.

Obama Has Instilled a Sense of Panic on Debt Deal, But Can he Deliver?

“I want to congratulate the Gang of Six for coming up with a plan that I think is balanced. We just received it, so we haven’t reviewed all the details of it. It would not match perfectly with some of the approaches that we’ve taken, but I think that we’re in the same playing field.”

-- President Obama updating reporters on the state of debt ceiling negotiations

The good news for President Obama is that his administration’s oft-repeated message about a debt limit “Armageddon” is getting through. Americans increasingly believe it is necessary to increase the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit.

The bad news for Obama is that this growing anxiety continues to add to the already gloomy perspective Americans have about the state of the nation and Obama’s performance in office.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows a 20-point swing on raising the debt limit, with the proposition going from a -10 in June to a +7 in the current survey.

The wording of the question is a bit loaded, using terms like “bankruptcy” and “defaulting,” that the survey didn’t use in April when Obama’s requested increase came in at -30. But, there’s no question that the message about looming disaster repeated over and over again by the Obama team is seeping through.

While other surveys show that Americans are skeptical about the administration’s self-imposed debt deadline of Aug.2, the Journal poll makes clear that the general concern about what would happen in the case of an impasse is real. Fifty-five percent of respondents said not raising the limit would be a “real and serious problem,” while only 18 percent disagreed.

But having achieved his goal of scaring the pants off the American electorate, Obama now faces the consequences.

The poll shows Americans have the lowest rating of the direction of the country since Obama took office, with 67 percent saying the country is on the wrong track -- the highest since the Panic of 2008. Economic pessimism is at its worst level since October 2010.

Obama’s own job approval rating has returned to the mid-40s doldrums where it hovered before the “shellacking” of 2010 and his edge over a hypothetical Republican opponent has dropped to 3 points with 15 percent undecided.

The president also doesn’t have the kind of rock-ribbed support on the debt deal that Republicans do. While 62 percent of Democrats believe that the members of their party should make compromises to get a deal done, only 45 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Obama’s negotiating tactic has been to ratchet up public anxiety about the debt limit in an effort to squeeze Republicans in Congress, some of whom would happily see the borrowing limit held in place and government outlays cut by the requisite 44 percent.

But as Democrats have pointed out, the borrowing limit covers only existing obligations – old debt and monies already appropriated – not any new baubles to offer voters. If the president gets the debt limit increased in time, he will have only preserved the status quo, likely at the price of another round of cuts to the government spending he and his supporters believe is stimulative to the ailing economy.

That may be the reason that Obama is showing new enthusiasm for a grand bargain on debt and deficits. Having put everybody into a dither over the debt limit, Obama is looking for some kind of payoff from the deal.

Not only would a grand bargain be a big political win for the president that would restore some of Obama’s tarnished appeal to moderates and independents, it would also thrill investors and capitalists who are so desperate for certainty. Conversely, a small or inconclusive package to raise the debt limit would do nothing to lift the gloomy mood of the electorate and businesses.

After telling a horror story for four months, Obama badly needs a happy ending.

Gang of Six Plan Looks Best From Afar

“To the extent that it cuts spending, I like it. To the extent that it raises taxes, I hate it.”

-- Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” discussing a deal reach by a bipartisan group of six senators

House Republicans aren’t buying the central selling point of the bipartisan debt deal reached by six Senators on Tuesday.

Most Senate conservatives were thrilled about the fact that the plan, while more modest and vague on the issue of cuts than they would like, offered a path to a simpler tax code with less burdensome rates.

The archconservatives in the Senate and House, though, greeted the plan with raised eyebrows. Aside from distrusting any plan that won the sudden and enthusiastic support of President Obama, the right wing fears any proposal that leaves details to be ironed out later.

Today’s tax simplification might become tomorrow’s tax hike.

But the biggest problem for the plan, other than the endorsement of a president who is not well-trusted by the right or left on fiscal issues, is that it’s simply too big to pass before the Aug. 2 debt limit deadline.

The proponents of the plan argue for an immediate temporary debt ceiling increase to give negotiators time to iron out the details. But that is a risky play, especially since it would be those details that doom the package. As regulations on health care, banking and immigration have taught us: comprehensive = unpopular.

What looks more likely is for the proposals in the plan to become the starting point for the debt panel that would be created by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s emergency proposal.

That’s a disheartening thought for the compromise clique. They know that once shunted into a committee the package will get, at best, partial consideration and, given election-year politics, none at all.

The Gangsters are hoping that panic and despair will cause lawmakers to take the plunge together, but as long as there is any alternative available it will be hard to get enough members to jump, especially in the House.

And Now, A Word from Charles

“What I would recommend is for the Republicans to adopt this but only raise the debt ceiling in return half a trillion for half a trillion in real cuts now. And then, the debt ceiling will run out in five or six months if it's a raising of only half a trillion. You revisit it and have negotiations on the second half and to see if real cuts have come out of the second part.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/Bret Baier

***Today on “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt” at 11:30 EDT: Chris Wallace, Juan Williams and more. Watch at http://live.foxnews.com/ ***