Michele Bachmann came out of the last G.O.P. debate of presidential hopefuls smelling like a rose having favorably impressed the national media with her serious demeanor and lack of excited partisan rant. Presently she finds herself in a dead heat with Mitt Romney among Republican voters in Iowa and with neither Rick Perry nor Sarah Palin currently in the race, Bachmann will surely gain momentum from her Tea Party backers. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks says that Romney has created a political vacuum which Bachmann has easily filled. However this newly enhanced stature and popularity among America’s ultra-conservatives presents a particularly vexing problem for Michele Bachmann. That problem has nothing to do with Bachmann’s conservative views and everything to do with her penchant for publicly misspeaking and confusing and conflating important historical facts. The net result of all of this is the prospect of having to engage continually in damage control due to her past gaffes, pratfalls,misstatements and misinterpretations of American history.
As far back as the 2008 elections, while appearing on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Bachmann had made such wild eyed claims that candidate Barack Obama was anti-American. To wit: “CHRIS MATTHEWS: –so you believe that Barack Obama might have anti-American views? BACHMANN: Yeah, absolutely I– I– I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views. That’s what the American people are concerned about.” Moreover, Bachmann went on to say that so many members of Congress could be considered “anti-American” that a media investigation of the institution was more than warranted. While such absurd statements were easily dismissed at the time as Bachmann was nothing more than a solitary Congresswoman parroting far right talking points, today those very words have now come back to haunt her.
Since 2008 Bachmann has amassed a track record of misstatements ranging from where the American Revolution actually started to assuming that the founding fathers had eliminated slavery during the framing of the Constitution to claiming that before the inauguration of President Obama America had a one hundred percent free market economy and that presently the federal government controls almost half of it. Apparently this sort of misstatement is nothing new, when Michele Bachmann was in the Minnesota Senate she claimed that by eliminating the minimum wage “we could potentially virtually wipeout unemployment.”
This past Sunday Bachmann appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. On both programs, Bachmann was forced to engage in damage control so as to address her earlier comments about Barack Obama being anti-American as well as other glaring gaffes. Asked by Schieffer about Obama’s anti-Americanism: “So what does that mean, congresswoman? Did you mean he was unpatriotic, that he didn’t love this country?”; Bachmann answered:” I don’t question his patriotism. I think what’s most important is how has the President performed? I think quite simply, the President has been wrong in his policy prescriptions for the country, that’s really what is important right now because we’re in serious times and we’re in trouble.” Schieffer went on to ask:” Well, would you wish you’d put it a different way when you said he had anti-American views?” to which Bachmann replied: “Oh, sure, there’s a lot of things I wish I would have said differently, of course.” Considering the exchange between Schieffer and Bachmann, it’s obvious that the candidate’s damage control techniques are now in place and being employed so as to deflect the mistakes of the past from the present business at hand.
However it was on Fox News, a venue that one would consider more than friendly to conservative candidates that moderator Chris Wallace leveled the most damaging blow of all: “Finally, let’s talk about Michele Bachmann because — and you say — it’s interesting. You say that the people saw in the debate and saw you as a serious person. I don’t have to tell you that you have — the rap on you here in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes, ranging from — talking about anti-America members of Congress — on this show — a couple of months ago, when you suggested that NATO air strikes had killed up to 30,000 civilians. Are you a flake?” While Wallace would later publicly apologize to Bachmann, the fact remains that even serious commentators on the right have questions about Bachmann’s past misstatements and gaffes and when you combine that with the savaging she can expect from the left and from her political opponents within the G.O.P. it’s impossible to see a Bachmann candidacy that isn’t characterized in a large part by a continual damage control program that seeks to protect the candidate from her own self inflicted mistakes.
When one surveys the American political landscape one comes to the conclusion that no amount of effective damage control on the part of the Bachmann campaign will even matter in the final analysis. Summarizing the commentary of Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register, “Bachmann plays very well with the very right wing elements of the Iowa Republican Party but she can’t secure the nomination without the more moderate elements within the G.O.P. Moreover, Bachmann can’t hope to win the general election without the support of independents.” Presently Bachmann polls very poorly with the wider electorate and she is unlikely to overcome that favorability deficit when the media and her opponents are constantly reminding the voters of her past gaffes, pratfalls, misstatements and misinterpretations of American history.