Michele Bachmann to Party: Don't Sell Me Short

Donald Lambro
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Posted: Jun 29, 2011 12:01 AM
Michele Bachmann to Party: Don't Sell Me Short

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has singularly achieved what the rest of her colleagues only dream of doing but never will: breaking out of the anonymity of 435 House members to become a national political figure in her own right and a candidate for the presidency.

She didn't do it by ascending the ranks of the House Republican leadership or by championing legislative crusades. No major piece of legislation bears her name. She has piled up no political IOUs by doing favors and playing by party rules. She chairs no committees.

Since she won her 6th District seat in 2006 -- the first Republican woman elected to the U.S. House from Minnesota -- she has been in a hurry to make her mark. She soon learned that she wasn't going to become known by sitting through hours of tedious, inconsequential hearings, or listening to boring House debate, or pursuing a go-along-to-get-along career and patiently waiting her turn.

And she soon learned that in the Old Boys Club in the House she wasn't going to be handed anything, either. So over these past six years, she became a fixture on virtually every cable television and broadcast network talk show in the business, denouncing President Obama's health care law, bashing his trillion-dollar deficits and big government in general.

She embraced the tea party movement from its birth, organized and keynoted its rallies at the Capitol, and became the leader of tea party-backed lawmakers who won House seats in 2010.

Her tireless efforts made her widely popular among the GOP's conservative base, though she was still seen as an outsider and to some degree a loose cannon among many in the GOP's leadership ranks. After she audaciously made an unexpected bid in January for the House Republican Conference chairmanship, the No. 4 post in the party's hierarchy, she withdrew her name in the face of certain defeat.

When House Speaker John Boehner picked Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the powerful Budget Committee chairman, to deliver the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address, she decided to deliver her own response on behalf of the Tea Party Express. She had another purpose in mind, and that was to tell her party's leaders, "Don't ignore me."

With tea party support from across the country and a growing campaign war chest (raising $1.7 million in the first three months of this year, the most of any House member behind Boehner), she set her sights on running for president.

But could she match the heavy hitters among the crowded field of candidates, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the party's front-runner?

Her poised, self-confident performance earlier this month at the CNN presidential debate in New Hampshire knocked that question out of the park.

She has polished her delivery on countless TV talk shows, and it showed in her unflinching, well-thought-out answers.

"This election will be all about economics. It will be about how will we create jobs, how will we turn the economy around, how will we have a pro-growth economy. President Obama can't tell that story. His report card right now has a big failing grade on it," she said.

On Monday, she officially announced her candidacy in Waterloo, Iowa, where she enjoys strong support from tea party conservatives and is virtually tied with Romney in early polls.

"The surprise is that Bachmann, who a Fox News host suggested Sunday may be 'a flake,' has quickly become one of the more sure-footed candidates in the race for the Republican nomination," the liberal Washington Post reported in a front-page story on Tuesday.

"She has built on momentum generated in a widely praised debate performance and has sent a jolt of energy through a GOP electorate that has been hungry for someone to be excited about," the Post said.

But there are huge obstacles awaiting Bachmann, not the least of which is historical precedent. No House member has won the White House since James A. Garfield was elected in 1880.

Historically, at least in the modern era, presidents by and large have been former governors who have had executive experience in running a government, balancing budgets and overseeing an economy, including George W. Bush, Clinton, Carter, Reagan, FDR, Coolidge, Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

It's a huge leap to go from representing a single congressional district, where your only constitutional job is to vote, to running the United States of America.

Bachmann's other hurdle may be putting together a respected team of national security and economic advisers to help develop a governing agenda.

Her speeches thus far have not spelled out in any detail how she would expand economic growth and create jobs, or deal with the myriad foreign policy and defense-related issues that await the next administration.

She is sometimes given to hyperbole and inaccurate remarks, as when she compared the mounting deficits to the Holocaust or claimed the first shots fired in the American Revolution were in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts.
  

Still, she's shown herself to be a fiercely independent woman who is running on a set of core values that have made America the most successful country in the world. She's not going to be a pushover in the primaries to come.