09.03.09

Bachmann for President?

America’s craziest member of Congress has hinted at running for the nation’s highest office, and who can blame her? Even her latest outbursts haven’t threatened her bulletproof status, Michelle Goldberg reports.

Michele Bachmann has always been on the far right of her right-wing party, but for the past year, her lunacy has been particularly vigorous. First was the McCarthyite demand for an investigation of “anti-American” members of Congress. Then came her fear that Obama was creating “ re-education camps” via the AmeriCorps program (a program her son has since joined). There was her call for Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous” revolutionaries against cap-and-trade legislation and her paranoid opposition to the Census. And on Monday, railing against health-care reform in Colorado, she implored a crowd “to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass.”

All this raises a question: Will Bachmann ever pay a political price for her fevered outbursts? In today’s GOP, is there such a thing as too crazy?

In 2008, “You had her demonstrating her embarrassing nuttiness repeatedly. And she still won.”

Obviously, the Democrats hope so, which is why there’s already lots of energy around Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District's primary race. “An extraordinary amount of money is pouring into this race very early,” says Brian Melendez, chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the state’s Democratic Party is called. Bachmann, he says, “is not just America’s craziest congressperson, she’s also one of the least effective members of Congress. She does nothing for her district, she brings nothing home, she has no legislative accomplishments she can point to.” He adds, “I’m confident that her true colors have been displayed since the last election in a way that they have not been before.”

At first glance, Melendez’s statement seems quixotic. Last time around, Bachmann’s challenger, Elwyn Tinklenberg, raised $1 million in the days after Bachmann’s outburst about anti-American congressmen. If Bachmann could be beat, 2008 should have been the year to do it.

Michele Bachmann’s Wackiest Moments“You had an election with a strong trend away from Republicans toward Democrats,” says Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (and Minnesota native). “You had a reasonably attractive, not terribly weak challenger against her, who ended up, because of the notoriety that she achieved, getting fairly well funded. You had her demonstrating her embarrassing nuttiness repeatedly. And she still won.”

Nevertheless, some think Bachmann’s Palin act might be wearing thin. In July, Roll Call reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee had added her to a program meant to boost fundraising for vulnerable incumbents. Physician Maureen Reed, who is battling state Senator Tarryl Clark for the Democratic nomination, recently raised $230,000 in eight weeks, according to Jason Isaacson, her campaign manager. Clark won’t reveal how much she has raised, but says, “We’re going to be competitive. Things are going quite well.”

“The bottom line is that the 6th District isn’t as conservative as [Bachmann] is,” says Isaacson. It’s certainly the most right-wing district in the state—it went for John McCain by almost nine points in 2008—but Isaacson insists that a challenger who is seen as a moderate, rather than a liberal, can “make Michele Bachmann pay for her political craziness.”

Even in 2008, Clark points out, most people in the district voted against Bachmann—but 10 percent of them went for a third-party candidate. (Bachmann won 46 percent, while 44 percent went for Tinklenberg.) Meanwhile, Clark adds, the district has the highest foreclosure rate in the state, something she says Bachmann has done nothing to ameliorate—the congresswoman has voted against every major foreclosure-relief bill and called struggling homeowners “irresponsible.”

“Her biggest accomplishments are really about creating controversy and generating talk-show ratings,” Clark says.

But such accomplishments can’t be dismissed. As Ornstein notes, most House members would die to get on television as often as Bachmann does. “There was a time when somebody who said outrageous things, especially if you’re one of 435 members of the House, was not going to get on television,” he says. “Simply putting that person on would affect the reputation of the show or network. Now it doesn’t matter. They’re angling to have embarrassing things said. She is in some ways in an enviable position.”

Bachmann may even be eyeing a more enviable position. In August, she told World Net Daily that should God call her to run for president, she would oblige. “If I felt that’s what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it,” she said. Given God’s previous encouragement for her political career—she ran in 2006, she said, because He called on her to do so—such an outcome is not altogether unlikely.

“I do believe you’re dealing with someone who’s got an enormous ego that keeps getting fed,” says Ornstein. “I doubt very much that anybody who is either close to her or has some power over her has said, ‘Are you nuts?’”

Michelle Goldberg is the author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, and many other publications.