COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa—Michele Bachmann wants Iowa to know that she was right all along.
"I went back to Washington not once, not twice, not three times—I went back to Washington four times to vote 'no' on raising the debt ceiling!" she says.
There are more than 70 people listening to this message. It's hot. She ran a little late. Some of them volunteered to sit to Bachmann's left or right to hold signs behind her, but most are in the shade. They're not reacting or applauding yet.
"What we saw last week is the markets agreed with me," says Bachmann. "The markets saw what happened in Washington when Obama got a $2.4 trillion check. And one thing you learned is you can't fool the markets! The politicians were busy applauding themselves! They were patting each other on the back! They were saying, 'Didn't we do a great job! We just raised the debt ceiling!' How did that make you feel?"
There's the reaction. Over the course of 25 minutes, the GOP's co-frontrunner finds space for all of her usual applause lines: There aren't any czars on our campaign bus! … In a Michele Bachmann administration, there won't be any teleprompters! … We're going to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term president!
The winning argument, the one she keeps returning to, is the saga of Michele and the Debt Limit. She followed her instincts. Iowa Republicans shared those instincts. They were right, and the elitists were wrong. (When aren't they wrong?) They promised that if the debt limit got hiked, rating agencies would go back to sleep. They didn't. Standard & Poor's lowered America's bond rating from AAA to AA+.
"It was lowered for the first time in American history!" says Bachmann. "We kept that rating during the Great Depression. We kept it during World War II. We kept it during Vietnam. We kept it after nine-one-one." (This is how Bachmann pronounces 9/11.)
Her would-be supporters, her would-be Ames Straw Poll voters, grimace and nod. They wish they weren't so right about all this.
Spending cuts or no, the debt limit "never should have been raised," sighs Anita Cote, who's come to the rally with her husband. A few years back they sold their clothing store and retired, and they had been doing well, but they have friends who aren't thriving. They see the spending coming out of Washington and identify a culprit. "You'd never run a business that way, and the people didn't want it to be raised."
The second part of that is true. That's part of the happy paradox that Bachmann and her congressional colleagues have created in Iowa. In polls, voters who'd never really been asked the question before said that they didn't want the debt ceiling increased. It was never clear whether they knew what this meant or whether they knew that no existing deficit-reduction plan—not Paul Ryan's, not Rand Paul's—worked without a debt-ceiling hike that allowed America to pay its obligations. They just didn't like the sound of it, which gave Bachmann an advantage as she inveighed against it.