Bachmann's Campaign Enters the Anonymous Griping Stage

Former campaign aides explain how she just wouldn't listen to their excellent advice

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When Newt Gingrich's campaign imploded this summer, his former staffers quickly moved to get the narrative out there that it wasn't their fault he was failing to catch on among Republican voters. All the blame fell on their crazy ex-boss, or maybe his wife: Gingrich was lazy, went on luxury cruises, was whipped by a demanding wife, they told the press. Now that Michele Bachmann's campaign looks like it's struggling, her aides are doing the same thing. Anonymous aides explained to The National Review's Robert Costa that Bachmann's campaign was crippled by a war between aides in the ground and aides on her bus.

Half a dozen Bachmann staffers have quit in a month, but some departures were "the plan all along" Bachmann's campaign said. Those that quit have been better at doing P.R. for themselves than the ones still working for her are doing for their candidate. So, while Costa is detailing the bitter agenda of former staffers, let's see what mistakes they think she made by not taking their excellent advice:

Betting it all on the Ames straw poll. Bachmann's staffers thought they could kill Tim Pawlenty's campaign and steal his place as the Not Mitt Romney Candidate by winning big in the August poll.

Not everyone in Bachmann’s orbit, however, thought this was the smart play. Winning Ames, as one former associate explains, costs millions. For the fledgling effort of a House member, pouring cash into a straw poll and hoping for a political payoff was, at best, risky. Lose it and you could be finished; win it, and you have momentum, but less money, a harsher spotlight, and no tangible electoral gain.
Bachmann shrugged off such concerns, aides say. ...  Ed Rollins, the campaign manager at the time, argued with her about this, asking her to reconsider her Ames emphasis. But she won out, so Rollins and his deputy, David Polyansky, began to coordinate an Iowa strategy, centered on outreach to evangelical voters.
The two made the best of the strategy -- "By early August, she was cruising, a top-tier Ames contender. Her tea-party and evangelical base swelled, rivaling the ranks behind Texas congressman Ron Paul," Costa writes.
We won. Now what? After winning at Ames, Bachmann's campaign didn't know what to do next:
Yet as the crowds rallied at ISU, internally, the campaign was in disarray, with nonstop infighting. Bachmann’s message, her policy positions, early-state plans, media strategy — everything became a quarrel. 
Bus crew vs. ground crew. The divide between staffers riding around on Bachmann's bus began and her paid consultants "widened into a gulf," Costa writes.
Rollins, still the campaign manager, was torn: He was reluctant to fire senior staff and upset Bachmann, but knew the campaign was collapsing ... Rollins grew increasingly exasperated with Bachmann’s decisions; the others told the congresswoman not to sweat the former Reagan strategist’s off-site demands.
That group on the bus ... began to hold greater sway over every detail, from debate prep to messaging. Even on the media front, where Rollins had built valuable relationships, he was overruled.
In September, "people close to the campaign" told The New York Times' Trip Gabriel that "Bachmann is often influenced by the last person she speaks with on an issue rather than maintaining discipline in communicating a message." Perhaps those frustrated people were the ones who were not on the bus.
Bachmann wouldn't take on Perry. Perry's entrance into the race "spooked" Bachmann, Costa reports. That led to a disastrous day when both candidates were in Bachmann's hometown, Waterloo, and Perry outshined the congresswoman.
To Rollins’s chagrin, she would not get off of her bus at the event until Perry was finished speaking. Rollins wanted her to go in, embrace Perry, and -- with a grin -- welcome him, while reminding him that he was late to the party. Bachmann wanted none of it. Instead, she stayed on her bus as Perry ate dinner with local Republicans and gave an upbeat speech.
Where to fight. The ground people wanted to focus on Iowa, while bus people wanted to fight in New Hampshire and South Carolina, too.
By early September, Rollins and Polyansky started to get the message — their all-Iowa focus was not going to win the day. Bachmann liked O’Donnell and Nahigian’s proposal, which kept the focus on Iowa but looked to South Carolina, New Hampshire, and other early states as must-play primaries. The “bus crew” rationale was that if she won Iowa, she’d need to have teams in the other states in order to sustain the campaign. Rollins thought that was foolish. 
(Last month, while still informally advising Bachmann, Rollins said she doesn't have the resources to compete beyond Iowa.)
Bachmann couldn't even figure out whom to fire. The candidate was running out of money, so what did she want to do? Fire the fundraisers, whom she blamed for the problem, Costa reports.
Rollins disagreed, saying her advance team and media advisers needed to get disciplined, and that to cut off her money raisers would send a poor message to the donor community. After a couple weeks of related discussions, Rollins and Polyansky knew it was time to leave. They were no longer in any real sense managing the campaign.
But most important, just as we saw with the Gingrich campaign, is blaming the candidate herself. Sources told Costa that Bachmann has a tendency to shoot herself in the foot. Bachmann hurt Perry when she attacked him for mandating tweens get vaccined for HPV. But then she messed it up. Costa writes, "She earned plaudits for slamming Perry on crony capitalism, 'but like with so much she does, she took a good thing too far, and made a mess of it,' as one source puts it."
Bachmann recently called herself "the comeback kid," a sign of doom, The Hill's Josh Lederman reports. "She’s in a position where delusion is presenting itself as the only opportunity, and it exists only in her mind," Republican strategist Chris Ingram told Lederman. "Whenever you’re in the position to start referring to yourself as the comeback kid, that’s an acknowledgement that things aren’t going real well."  Meanwhile, Republicans in Bachmann's home state are not betting on her victory, Minnesota Public Radio reports. Few Republicans have indicated they'll try to run in her district, which Bachmann's former staffer Ron Carey says "tells me very clearly that nobody thinks that she's going to become the Republican nominee here in Minnesota."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.