Oh Michele Bachmann, leaving Congress the way she spent every day of it – awkwardly, and with a wide, toothy, slightly inappropriate smile.
“I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth Congressional term,” she declared in a friendly eight-minute video on her campaign Web site. “This decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff.” Bachmann also insisted her departure had nothing to do with polls showing that Jim Graves, the Democrat she barely defeated last year, currently holds a two-point lead.
That’s so Bachmann: All smiles and chirpy optimism, she’s going to tell you up front that the swirling scandal and her dropping poll numbers aren’t the reason behind her departure – when they are precisely the reason.
Bachmann came to national public attention when she told Hardball’s Chris Matthews in 2008 that she thought the media ought to investigate the anti-American views of the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama. That wasn’t all: “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?” Our 21st century Joe McCarthy had arrived, in a perfectly highlighted helmet of hair and bright lipstick.
She became a self-anointed leader of the fledgling Tea Party that next year, and ably represented its toxic blend of fear and misunderstanding: anti-Obama, anti-government spending, anti-science. She accused Obama of running a “gangster government,” suggested a cluster of 2011 earthquakes and hurricanes were God’s punishment for the “morbid obesity diet” of federal spending, and maybe most famously, insisted the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation.” Who can forget when she was chosen (or chose herself?) to deliver the official Tea Party response to the 2011 State of the Union address – and spent the entire time staring a little alarmingly at the wrong camera?. In some ways, that was the beginning of the end for Bachmann as national leader – but she ran for president anyway.
In that great primary season of 2012, in which all of the subpar GOP candidates got to take their turn at the top, (kind of like a children’s T-ball game where everyone’s a winner!), Bachmann, unbelievably, went first: She won the Ames Straw Poll, which made her the front-runner for a minute. What a campaign! She confused John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy in a stop at Waterloo, Iowa, and wished Elvis Presley a happy birthday on the anniversary of his death. Maybe most memorably, in a peroration on the greatness of the Founders, she insisted they had “worked tirelessly to end slavery,” when they had not done any such thing, and particularly praised Founder John Quincy Adams, who was in fact not a Founder but the son of one.
Actually, “most memorable campaign moment” has to go to her attempts to eat a corn dog on camera, which were only topped by her husband Marcus’s efforts to do the same thing. Marcus, the psychologist who worked to get gay men to give up their gayness, who told reporters he was the “high maintenance” Bachmann, and greeted campaign reporters with balloons.
Wednesday morning, Joe Scarborough was just one of several Republicans to note the impact Bachmann made on the 2012 race, even as she lost Iowa and quickly dropped out. Still, her strong Ames showing knocked Tim Pawlenty out of the race, which apparently secures her place in history. You know the GOP has big problems when folks are still looking back at 2012 and missing Tim Pawlenty,
They won’t miss Bachmann. She combined a crackpot appeal to the far-right with an apparent tolerance, if not encouragement, of ethical lapses and campaign finance dodges that threatened to damage not only her but her party. The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating claims by former Bachmann campaign aides that she illegally used money from her House campaign to pay for her unsuccessful Iowa caucus bid. A government watchdog told Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald that the ethics questions “could be a career ender for Michele Bachmann.”
She ended her congressional career herself – but unless she faces ongoing legal troubles, Bachmann will no doubt remain in public life, joining Sarah Palin on the ex-politician/grifter gravy train. There’s a lot of money to be made out there. As Bachmann exits one door and opens another, we only have one request: Can she please take the Ames Straw Poll with her? Oh, and leave us Marcus.