How attacking Michele Bachmann is making her stronger

at 01:22 PM ET, 07/27/2011


Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks to the South Carolina Christian Chamber of Commerce at Christ Central Ministries in Columbia, S.C., Monday, July 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Brett Flashnick) (BRETT FLASHNICK - AP)
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has come under attack of late for migraines (she gets them) and makeup (she spends campaign money on it).

While the stories are clearly aimed at slowing Bachmann’s momentum, it seems equally likely that they will boomerang on her attackers and actually strengthen her current position in the 2012 presidential race.

“That she remains poised in the face of such petty attacks and/or jujitsu’s them into opportunities all while staying on message in a happy warrior posture...speaks volumes to her character and is refreshing in an arena awash in negativity and incivility, whether or not one is with her on policy,” said Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

The attacks leveled against Bachmann to date have two potential positive effects for her candidacy.

First, they make her a more empathetic figure in the eyes of Republican primary voters.

Remember that Bachmann is not a terribly well known commodity nationally yet and the image of a woman struggling with migraines — a condition that afflicts more than 30 million people in the U.S. (including three times as many women as men) — is a decidedly sympathetic one.

That could, of course, change if there is more to the migraine story than we currently know. But, at the moment the facts are that Bachmann gets migraines and she is able to deal with them thanks to prescription medication. That’s a good thing, not a bad one for Bachmann’s presidential hopes.

Second, with the makeup story in particular, Bachmann is able to use it to remind voters that she is the only woman in the race and deride the attacks as, if not downright sexist, the sort of thing that female politicians have to deal with that men simply don’t.

While Mother Jones, the liberal publication that unearthed Bachmann’s spending on a makeup artist, compared it to John Edwards’ $400 haircut during the 2008 campaign , the Atlantic’s Elspeth Reeve had the right of it when she wrote:

“It seems like this is closer to her own Sarah-Palin’s-$150,000-wardrobe moment where a female candidate is deemed unserious because she tries to meet to the demands of high-definition television cameras — in this case, by not letting her pores show.”

The more that Bachmann is perceived as the sympathetic victim of a vicious media and a gender double standard — especially in the eyes of female Republican voters — the more she is strengthened in the fight for the nomination.

Why? In a race where most of the candidates have the same positions on nearly every issue, the winner will likely be the person that voters either most identify with or most admire.

We have written before that Bachmann, at least on paper, has a compelling personal story to tell and attacks on her migraines and makeup only make that narrative more endearing to many GOP primary voters.

Attacking Bachmann on more personal matters like migraines and makeup also distract from a deeper examination of her record in Congress and past controversial public statements that could well raise serious doubts in the minds of voters about her readiness to be president.

(Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, for his part, has started to attack Bachmann on the substance of her record; “These are really serious times, and there hasn’t been somebody who went from the U.S. House of Representatives to the presidency, I think, in over a hundred years, and there’s a reason for that,” Pawlenty said in an interview on CNN. Of course, Pawlenty also waded into the migraine debate.)

It amounts to the mistake many Republican strategists felt that businessman Donald Trump made in his on-again, off-again presidential bid — focusing on a non-issue (Obama’s citizenship) that served as a distraction for him and the other candidates in the race who wanted to keep the focus on the President’s economic record.

Ultimately, talk of Bachmann’s makeup and her migraines amount to a sideshow (unless, as we mentioned above, more comes of her headaches) that will almost certainly help rather than hamstring her chances at the GOP presidential nomination.

 
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