Yesterday, Michele Bachmann announced that she would not be running for Congress in 2014. While she explained in her announcement that she had essentially term-limited herself and that her decision in no way had anything to do with her chances in 2014, in truth, even though the 2014 campaign has not even really started, she was already on her last legs and hugging the ropes. Her 2012 presidential campaign is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, a congressional ethics committee, and multiple other state and federal agencies; she barely won her seat in November in a district that Romney won by 56.5% of the vote; and the Democratic National Committee had just announced that she would be targeted in 2014 and that they were going to spend millions of dollars in a bid to unseat her.
By all accounts, Michele Bachmann was an exemplary local politician in Minnesota, and many people thought that she might make a good president someday. Her problems came when she tried to go national. Hers was a textbook example of trying to shoot too high too fast. She just made too many unforced errors as a member of the House of Representatives and as a presidential candidate ever to have become a potent force in national politics.
Bachmann’s political career was destroyed more than anything else by her own tongue. Continually in the debates, she would score direct hits on her opponents–hits that should have been knock-out blows–and then instead of just going back to her corner and leaving her opponent to be counted out, she would stand in the middle of the ring and deliver herself a hard uppercut with a nonsensical, unnecessary comment. It was as though she could not help herself, and simply had to act loopy at the most inopportune moments. She lost more debates than we could count simply because she had knocked herself out. All Romney had to do was smile and let her keep talking.
Bachmann made other unforced errors as well. For example, in Iowa she chose photo-ops over campaign stops, and on the few campaign stops she made, she acted forever as the front-runner prima donna rather than the hungry politician. “Let the crowd wait while I stay in my trailer and do my make-up!” Based on the bang for the buck that she was getting off of her campaign expenditures, if she had spent half as much time pressing the flesh in Iowa as Rick Santorum did, she would have won the state. People wanted to vote for her–they were in her corner, rooting for her, but more often than not she simply did not bother to show up.
We write this not to pile on Bachmann. Rather, we write this in sadness. She could have been a contender, but as it is she will be a footnote. She was a Chuck Wepner, when she could have been a Muhammad Ali. The whole thing is such a sad, stupid waste.
As Ried Wilson notes in the National Journal,
Bachmann’s political career trumped her legislative career. While she became a heroine to many Tea Party activists, raising more money than almost any other member of the House of Representatives during her last election cycle, she held little sway in Washington beyond a tiny cohort of friends and allies and she passed no significant legislation during her time in Washington …
And while Bachmann remained the poster child for the Tea Party label, especially to liberal media outlets in search of a boogeyman, other more conservative members have risen to greater prominence, in both the House and Senate.
Her political troubles made her one of the few members of Congress who would be more difficult for her party to defend than an open seat would be. That is, Republicans would rather run a fresh candidate without Bachmann’s baggage than try to defend her suburban Twin Cities district. In 2012, Mitt Romney took 56.5 percent of the vote in Bachmann’s district; Bachmann eked out a win over Democrat Jim Graves by just 1.2 percentage points, or about 4,300 votes.
Bachmann may have been the loudest member of the class of 2006, the one who inspired the most heated arguments. But she will hardly be the most consequential; her enduring legacy may be the lessons she taught in how to lose friends and become completely uninfluential.
With her exit, Democrats lose a potent fundraising tool. Republicans lose a headache they would just as soon do without.