The “Mad as Heck” caucus lost its most vocal proponent last week when Rep. Michele Bachmann announced she won’t run for re-election in 2014.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a conservative that disagrees with President Obama on health care, foreign policy and many other issues, but Bachmann has become a straw man used by liberals to tear down the conservative movement.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the GOP has a seriously damaged brand. Mitt Romney ran ahead of Republican Senate candidates in every swing state, suggesting the party had a brand problem. The Republican National Committee even commissioned an official autopsy report of the failed 2012 election, something you rarely do when you’re handling things well. It makes the branding point clear, especially beyond hardcore conservatives.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” the report notes. “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
I think it is fair to say that extremists like Bachmann have a lot to do with that. She is polarizing, even in Republican circles. In 2012, Mitt Romney won Bachmann’s district by nearly 15 points, but she eked out a win by 1.2 percent. That came without much funding support for her challenger, but that was going to change in the 2014 rematch.
Politico reported that her challenger released polls showing him leading Bachmann one week before she declared she wouldn’t run. In addition, national Democrats were gearing up to pour money into the race. That’s pretty rare for a candidate in what would typically be considered a safe Republican seat.
It is even more rare when the representative being challenged is as prolific a fundraiser as Bachmann.
So what was wrong with Bachmann?
Well, there was the time she encouraged citizens to undermine the census by refusing to participate. She said that participating in the census enabled the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII, implying that could happen again. Such talk may be popular in the tin-foil-hat-wearing community, but its only real effect would be to disenfranchise uncounted voters.
Then there was the time that she accused a high-ranking U.S. official of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood without any evidence other than the fact that she is Muslim. That McCarthy-like witch hunt should send chills down the spine of any religious minority. It drew rebukes from numerous religious groups, Speaker of the House John Boehner and 2008 GOP Presidential Nominee John McCain.
Then during the presidential race, she claimed that the HPV vaccine can cause mental retardation, perpetuating myths about vaccinations that have already taken many lives by discouraging parents from protecting their children.
In that same election, Bachmann announced that Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan in Massachusetts was unconstitutional, despite a lack of any legal reasoning that would suggest that was the case.
One might argue that she was simply denouncing a law unpopular with conservatives to win votes, but her position is more sinister than you think. Bachmann, who holds two law degrees, was essentially taking the liberal position of undermining federalism. Her failure to recognize the fundamental difference between state and federal governments would be an excusable error for someone without a background in law.
For someone who studied and practiced law, it suggests a deficiency in her conservatism, her intelligence or her integrity.
Unfortunately, our cable news environment often gives undue attention to the most extreme voice in the room. It is into this situation, that firebrands like Bachmann have found a way to become stand-out political stars very quickly.
But populism isn’t a governing philosophy. Candidates who repeatedly sell out principles for a few donations will eventually paint themselves into corners — offending voters left and right and thereby losing the legitimacy to govern.
That happened to Bachmann. It is why, despite running in a very conservative district, she probably couldn’t win re-election. So she’s retiring to save face.
It is also why only liberal commentators like James Carville responded to the announcement by saying it was a “sad day.”