For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has operated on the fringes of Republican presidential politics as the aggressive founder and leader of the House Tea Party Caucus. She was so politically radioactive that she was turned down for a low-level House GOP leadership post and viewed by many as a poor imitation of Sarah Palin.
But after her strong performance Monday night in the first major GOP debate of the election season in New Hampshire, she is fast morphing from right wing long-shot candidate into a more mainstream contender, with her laser-like fiscal focus. Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, may have to think twice about whether she can afford to stay on the sidelines much longer—especially after Bachmann wielded the attention of millions when she officially announced her candidacy during last night’s broadcast.
Her reviews the morning after were uniformly positive. She “commanded” the stage and left as the most “the most talked-about candidate in the 2012 GOP field,” according to a Washington Post analysis. The National Journal said her enthusiastic showing “overshadowed” fellow Minnesotan contender Tim Pawlenty and ex-pizza chain owner CEO Herman Cain. The Hill called her the clear winner of the debate, with comments that were “tight, on message and effective.”
“As a second-tier candidate, she was able to punch through by being very clear and impressive with her answers,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, told The Fiscal Times. “It will take a series of high-profile conversations that she’ll have to have with the American people, and she’ll have to really knock it out of the park each time, but she’s definitely on the right track for a second-tier presidential candidate to become first-tier.”
Bachmann fielded questions during the debate on topics ranging from U.S. military operations abroad to gay marriage, but she emphasized that her major campaign focus will be the sagging economy and the national debt—priorities that Bonjean said played well to to a national TV audience and the Republican base.
“This election will be about economics,” Bachmann said. “It will be about how will we create jobs, how will we turn the economy around, how we will have a pro-growth economy … President Obama can’t tell that story. His report card right now has a big failing grade on it.”
Bachmann, 55, a three-term House member from suburban St. Paul whose husband runs a mental health clinic, said lowering the corporate tax rate and repealing “job killing regulations” would be at the top of a Bachmann administration, and that cutting spending is a non-negotiable must.
She told The Fiscal Times in a December interview that the underlying cause of the nation’s financial and fiscal woes is an overreaching federal government, and that there is a desperate need to scale back its role. “Government has proven to be a very poor manager of relieving peoples suffering, and is not the engine of prosperity,” she said. “We need to retool what government does. We need to encourage people in both private business and charitable institutions to be empowered to help those on the social welfare side, but then also to let the economy go forward, innovate and thrive. “
Bachmann is an attractive, skilled campaigner who has begun assembling a staff, including veteran campaign adviser Ed Rollins. Moreover, she is an accomplished fundraiser – a critical skill for a newly announced candidate in a crowded Republican field.
In the first three months of 2011, Bachmann raised $1.7 million, the second-most of any House member behind Speaker John Boehner, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. She raised $13.6 million in her 2010 reelection campaign – which was more money than any other House candidate raised, and much of it from Tea Party activists.
However, Bachmann’s sharp tongue and Tea Party popularity hasn’t always translated into Congressional clout. After the 2010 election, she was passed over for a House Republican leadership post, after which she delivered the first-ever Tea Party rebuttal to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address.
Her presentation was separate from the official Republican rebuttal from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan—a move which some rank-and-file Republicans considered polarizing. Following last fall’s mid-term election, Bachmann repeated earlier comments that the Obama administration and Congress are acting like a “gangster government,” for having passed the 2009 stimulus bill and health care reform. She said that any effort to ram through legislation to raise the debt ceiling without substantial spending cuts would represent a continuation of the problem.
A former tax attorney, Bachmann was elected to represent Minnesota’s 6th congressional district in 2006 after serving six years in the state Senate. A born-again Christian and constitution-enthusiast, she first appeared on the national radar in an October 2008 MSNBC appearance in which she called then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and other Democrats ‘anti-American.’
One of the most conservative members of the House, Bachmann adamantly opposes any form of tax increase and wants to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to nine percent. She also was one of the most vocal opponents of the health reform law, a position she reiterated last night when she said she would “not rest” until she repeals it.
Though she voted for the House Republican plan for overhauling Medicare, she recently came out in favor of repackaging the proposal as the “55 and under plan,” to make sure current seniors understand that their benefits would be protected. She favors “weaning” Americans off Medicare and Social Security in order to better protect the programs, she told The Fiscal Times in December. “If our fiscal ship is heading toward an iceberg, we need to turn it around right now so that someday, very vulnerable senior citizens don’t go to their mailbox and see an IOU from Medicare and Social Security.”
Bachmann Wows in First Debate (CBS News)
Michele Bachmann Steals Limelight at Republican Debate (UK Telegraph)
The Nine Craziest Things Michele Bachmann Has Ever Said (The Business Insider)