Romney and Bachmann 2012?

Romney wins the first debate, but Bachmann receives the biggest boost.

The first Republican presidential debate had a clear winner: Mitt Romney. As the frontrunner, all Romney had to do was sit-tight, not say anything stupid and look like a potential president. Last night, he managed all three and, as such, won by default. Tim Pawlenty flunked his chance to attack Romneycare (attempting to give healthcare to the uninsured being Romney's Achilles heel, naturally), Newt Gingrich sounded like an angry nutcase and Ron Paul, well, is a nutcase.

US blogs, however, went wild for one candidate: Michelle Bachmann. Salon gave her a rave review. As did Time. Ezra Klein is a long-standing admirer, if not supporter. The main dissenting voice was Andrew Sullivan, who thought Klein and co were buying into a Bachmann Bubble.

Sullivan, however, is being a little unfair. Bachmann won't win the nomination. She has low name recognition and her views are too far to the right for most moderate voters. But that is not the point. Where Bachmann would come into her own, however, is on the ticket with a candidate like Romney, whom the Christian right of the party regard with suspicion. She brings the same Tea Party votes as Palin, without Palin's toxic baggage.

Like Palin, Bachmann is a God-fearing, child-rearing, gun-toting, pro-life voting, homo-haranguing right-winger. Unlike Palin, however, Bachmann is able to string a sentence together and, while in the main reprehensible, her views have an ideological framework to them. Bachmann would plug many of the holes in Romney's CV, without being as much as a liability as Palin proved to be.

Romney and Bachman 2012? It could happen.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.