From the perspective as a student and practitioner of political campaigns, the collapse of Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid is a matter of great interest.
Though practically all Democrats, most news commentators and many Republicans of the establishment variety simply chalked up the demise of her White House run being the inevitable outcome of a fringe candidate, Bachmann enjoyed, albeit only briefly, a status that the more reputable Tim Pawlenty never attained, that of leading contender.
Bachmann was a prolific fundraiser, hauling in over $13 million for her re-election bid for the US House of Representatives in 2010, the year before announcing for president, an impressive total that set a record.
By comparison, Bobby Jindal raised slightly more than that in his successful bid for governor of Louisiana in 2007.
Bachmann’s prowess at filling her campaign treasury helped fuel her presidential bid further than most aspirants from the house reach (anyone remember Kasich 2000, expired 1999).
Flush with campaign cash and a nationwide donor database, it wasn’t a surprise when Bachmann raised her ambitions to the highest level in 2011. She telegraphed a major tell that it was in the works earlier that year at CPAC when delivering the conference’s keynote address that sounded more like the kickoff of a presidential exploratory committee.
After a strong performance in her initial debate appearance where she generated additional buzz by using that venue to mention she was filing paperwork to become a full-fledged candidate, Bachmann hit the road hard, touting her evangelical beliefs and her Iowa roots in the all-important lead-off state.
Her high water mark was in August 2011 when she won the delegate-less yet not inconsequential political carnival that is the Ames straw poll, finishing off what was left of Pawlenty’s once promising presidential bid.
At that moment she became the leading conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, who wisely punted on the expensive and politically risky event.
So how did someone who drove out her state’s former governor and nosed out the uber-organized Ron Paul machine in the summer crash so spectacularly in the winter, finishing dead last of all of the GOP candidates who bothered to show up to the Iowa caucuses?
Texas Governor Rick Perry’s entrance into the race immediately overshadowed her win, which took place only hours before Bachmann celebrated her straw poll victory in a tent filled to capacity.
And while Perry’s once seemingly formidable campaign flamed out, what’s remarkable is how social conservative voters never went back to Bachmann, embracing the next few conservative flavors of the month (Herman Cain and then Newt Gingrich) before settling on Rick Santorum.
The best guess I have for the defection from Bachmann was that though she was the most consistently conservative candidate in the field and extremely vocal in espousing conservative causes, few on the Right had much confidence in her capacity to defeat Barack Obama in the general election, hence they voted for her in droves when it didn’t count and got behind someone else when it did.
One of the reasons why someone hasn’t been directly elected to the White House straight from the US House of Representatives since the 19th century (James Garfield was the last for those keeping score at home) has to do in part with the limited constituency, which can hinder fundraising (something Bachmann overcame in spades) and create an echo chamber of interests.
There’s also a different level of expectations a voter has for his US Representative than his US Senator.
And that was why Bachmann struggled, even with presidential campaign-like funding, to hold on to a congressional seat. Her constituents did not want to share their congresswoman with the national TEA Party constituency.
Though Romney carried Minnesota’s 6th District with 56%, Bachmann just skated back for another term by a mere 1%. Bachmann can take solace in her departure from Capitol Hill that it’s highly unlikely a Democrat will succeed her in a relatively conservative district that would likely embrace a less controversial and more local issue oriented Republican candidate.
There is a double-standard when it comes to members of Congress. While senators can generally grandstand on national issues with few consequences, representatives are expected to focus on sewerage projects and parochial matters.
LBJ once shared with future President George H.W, Bush his take on the difference between the two congressional chambers: the senate was “chicken salad” and the house was “chicken shit.”
In her Icarian political career Bachmann forgot the late Tip O’Neill’s legendary adage that is applicable to any candidate regardless of ideology or party, all politics is local.