The Minnesota Republican has excelled as a provocateur. Her frequent appearances on cable television, in which she harshly criticizes Democrats in general and President Obama in particular, have made her a household name. She is a sought-after speaker on the conservative lecture circuit and raises thousands of dollars with a simple tweet.
Bachmann has larger ambitions. The tea party heroine is preparing a long-shot bid for president in 2012 and is getting plenty of attention as she criss-crosses the early primary states. At campaign stops in New Hampshire this weekend, Bachmann called the new health-care law Obama’s “Frankenstein,” saying the overhaul was a practice in “fantasy economics,” and likened the nation’s growing debt crisis to the Holocaust.
Despite her fame and her skill at attracting controversial headlines, Bachmann has yet to leave her mark as a policymaker or legislator. On Capitol Hill, she holds little sway with her colleagues and has guided no substantial legislation into law.
A bill Bachmann introduced last year to clear the way for the new Stillwater bridge — her top local priority — attracted no co-sponsors and died in a subcommittee. One of her biggest legislative accomplishments to date was approval of a 2009 resolution supporting National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month, to bring attention to the brain disorder.
Bachmann says there is a reason for this: She is unwilling to adopt many of the skills traditionally associated with success in Congress — inside maneuvering, charming committee leaders and trading favors with colleagues.
Instead, she says, she measures her success as a congresswoman not only by what she is able to make happen, but by what she is able to keep from happening. Bachmann fashions herself as a savior of her vision of America, by putting herself between anyone or any idea that she thinks goes against the will of the people and by conforming to no party’s rules.
A fearless practitioner of pitchfork populism, Bachmann has been known to jab her prongs into establishment Republicans as well as Democrats.
She founded the House Tea Party Caucus last year, installing herself as leader. She saw herself as something of a den mother for the 87 Republican freshmen in the House, but only a dozen have joined her group.
When Republicans took control of the House in January, she tried to parlay her populist appeal into a party leadership spot. Her colleagues turned her down.