Media Skepticism Aside, Michele Bachmann Is for Real

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Michele Bachmann has said some funny stuff--like that maybe members of Congress should be investigated for anti-Americanism--but maybe it's time for headlines to be a little kinder to the potential presidential candidate. It looks like Republican voters are taking her seriously (or least more seriously than they're taking Jon Huntsman, who's seen as a credible candidate despite having a single supporter in Public Policy Polling's latest from Iowa). Bachmann will be in the second Republican primary debate June 13--the first one with top-tier candidates--and, as is in keeping with her Tea Party leanings, she earned loud cheers from the crowd at Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington Friday, when she pledged to make President Obama a one-term president. The biggest cheers came when she vowed to kill Obama's health care overhaul: "I am committed: I will not rest until we repeal ObamaCare. America will not rest until we repeal ObamaCare... Take it to the bank, cash the check, it will be done." Will Bachmann get the chance to do it? Here are her strengths and weaknesses going into the race:


She Knows How to Organize: Bachmann has been building her campaign infrastructure for months now. She's hired staff in early voting states, and her chief-of-staff is taking a leave of absence to work on her campaign. It shows her grassroots past, which Suzy Khimm detailed for Mother Jones. Bachmann "originally got involved in politics as a grassroots organizer—and she's used those skills to build up ground-level support and attract allies at every stage of her career. In the 1990s, she first garnered attention by organizing anti-abortion protests in the St. Paul area, then moved on to fight state regulation of education as a home schooling advocate. ... Last year, she launched Congress' first Tea Party Caucus of like-minded conservative legislators. More than 50 GOP House members have joined so far--and four senators have signed on as well."

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A Long Conservative Resume: She's used those organizational skills to promote conservative causes for years, The New Republic's Ed Kilgore observes, and looks a lot more dedicated than Sarah Palin. "Her signature issue as a Minnesota state senator was fighting same-sex marriage... Bachmann is the one who organized the borderline-violent demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol just before last year’s final vote on health reform, and suggested that Democratic members of Congress be investigated to determine if they were 'pro-American' or 'anti-American.' And Bachmann isn’t a casual churchgoer like Palin: She got her law degree from Oral Roberts University (a law school that eventually migrated to Pat Robertson's Regent University); her husband has long run a 'Christian family counseling' center; and both Bachmanns once operated a charter school that was accused of seriously violation of the principle of church-state separation."

Not an Anti-Intellectual: Bachmann was a tax attorney, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait notes, and "she does not engage in Palin's visceral anti-intellectualism, giving herself the aura of a plausible president, at least in the minds of Republican voters."

Not Wimpy:  Bachmann "is relatively free of Palin’s whiny martyr complex," Kilgore writes. "For all her defiance of the 'lamestream media' and the hated 'elites,' Palin concedes the power of her critics' sneers by being so conspicuously wounded by them. Bachmann seems tougher, as reflected in her handling of a recent gaffe in which she said that the battles of Lexington and Concord happened in New Hampshire. Bachmann responded to the mockery with a barbed admission: 'So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!'"

Strong Iowa Ties: Bachmann was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and represents a neighboring state. And she's best pals with Iowa Rep. Steve King. The Iowa Republican's Craig Robinson writes, "It’s easy to write off the value of endorsement in modern-day politics, but King's endorsement matters in Iowa." A key reason the Tea Party wasn't a big deal in the state in 2010 was that King, a "conservative icon," didn't seek higher office. "A Bachmann run would create a perfect storm in Iowa. Bachmann is already the darling of the Tea Party. Combine that with King’s statewide network of conservative in a caucus election and its bound to befuddle everyone in the beltway as well as her caucus opponents."


Lots of Gaffes: Bachmann filed a police report saying she was trapped in an airport bathroom by lesbians. She made the Concord mixup, and when she offered her response to the State of the Union, she looked in the wrong camera the whole time, which was parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Lots of Enemies: Some Republicans in Minnesota feel like Bachmann stepped on a lot of toes in her rise to prominence. “A team player Michele Bachmann is not,” former Minnesota House Speaker Steve Sviggum told Politico's Jason Hohmann. And former GOP leader of the state Senate Dean Johnson said of Bachmann, "I don't think I ever served with anybody who I mistrusted more, from either side of the aisle."

No One Takes Her Seriously: Palin's former adviser Michael Goldfarb says of his old boss, "She was never going to get a fair shake from the media," Goldfarb said. "The same can be said of Bachmann. It is obvious the media does not take Bachmann seriously. They don’t take her views seriously and they don't take the view of her supporters seriously even though that is a huge segment of the Republican Party and the country." Alex Pareene, for one, doesn't take her seriously. In a post that is actually titled "Do we really have to take Michele Bachmann 'seriously' now?" Pareene writes,

"Isn't it more or less appropriate to continue treating her as a very popular sideshow?  ... The fact that she has managed to convince 50% of suburban voters in a Republican district to send her to Washington does not actually make her more a more credible candidate than Herman Cain, who has at least run a major industry lobbying organization. ... I imagine Bachmann probably thinks she's doing the Lord's work. She really would like to impose some sort of libertarian theocracy, where the government has no authority to regulate anything beyond the stoning of abortionists and homosexuals. So I dunno. She might do OK in Iowa but the wheels would come off that campaign very shortly afterward."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.