Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann flirting with White House bid

The Tea Party heroine is "seriously weighing" a campaign for next year's GOP presidential nod

Steve Kornacki
January 5, 2011 9:45PM (UTC)

I guess it was inevitable that it would come to this: Michele Bachmann is toying with launching a campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Per ABC News:

A source close to the three-term congresswoman said Bachmann will travel to Iowa this month for multiple meetings to seek advice from political forces there and party elders close to the caucus process before coming to a final decision regarding a potential presidential run. Bachmann, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, also is set to deliver a keynote speech at an Iowans for Tax Relief PAC fundraiser Jan. 21 in Des Moines, Iowa.

There are several things to be said about this. One is that Bachmann's apparent interest isn't that surprising in light of the Tea Party-fueled upheaval we saw in multiple Republican primaries last year. It's not hard to imagine that watching Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and others triumph even after being mocked for their erratic behavior and deemed certain general election losers made Bachmann say, "Why not me?"  Add in the seeming weakness of the '12 GOP field, Bachmann's built-in national fundraising network, her Iowa roots, and the narrowness of the Iowa caucus electorate (and the fact that it may only take 30 percent to win), and it sort of makes sense that she'd think about taking a shot, doesn't it?


But if she does go forward and run, it's doubtful that she'll be as successful as she now imagines. It's rare for a sitting member of the House to wage a credible campaign for a presidential nomination. Richard Gephardt is the only House member in the modern era to win a primary or caucus (Iowa in 1988), while Mo Udall finished second in a bunch of contests in 1976. Those are the highlights. Then there's Bob Dornan (who couldn't crack 1 percent in New Hampshire in 1996), Jack Kemp (a very distant third place in New Hampshire was his high point in 1988),  John Anderson (who had no luck in the 1980 GOP primaries, but did nab 5.7 percent that fall as an independent), Dennis Kucinich (a gadfly in both 2004 and 2008), and John Kasich (who didn't even make it to the starting line in 2000).

Granted, Bachmann has a much larger national profile -- especially among Republican voters -- than the typical member of the House. But if she were to run and gain some traction, her flightiness would probably cost her. Here, the example of Sarah Palin -- who has seen her standing with Republican voters drop significantly in the last year -- is instructive. As the prospect of a Palin '12 candidacy became more real over the past 12 months, influential conservatives began sending clear public signals that they don't want her as their nominee -- and rank-and-file Republicans seem to be coming around. Even in Iowa, where staunchly conservative Christian activists dominate the caucuses, Bachmann might have trouble breaking out of single digits.

Which is why it's doubtful that she'll actually run -- especially if Palin were to go forward with a candidacy of her own. More likely is that Bachmann will seek to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2012 -- although, given Bachmann's baggage, that would be a reach, too. Minnesota isn't as liberal as many assume (yes, it voted for Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis -- but also Rod Grams and Norm Coleman), but it's probably the case that the state's 6th District represents Bachmann's ceiling in elected politics. She doesn't have to worry about a primary challenge while the district's GOP bent protects her in general elections; remember that even in 2008, one of the worst Republican years in memory, Bachmann still fended off her Democratic challenger by 3 points -- and that was right after she caused a national uproar with her comments about "anti-American" activities in Congress.


Of course, flirting with a presidential bid never hurt anyone; it's great for free publicity. So here's guessing that Bachmann will deliver her speech in Des Moines in two weeks and probably a few others like it in the months ahead, pronounce herself flattered by the outpouring of interest, and then decline to run.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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