She fired up conservative followers. She clashed with social liberals and gay leaders, who were infuriated by her description of homosexuality as a sad life of despair and her musing that Satan must have had a part in creating the word gay.
In the vitriol of those days, Bachmann once moved her children out of their home in Stillwater, Minn., worried for their safety, she said.
“I was public enemy number one,” she recalled recently.
But that didn’t sway her. Nor did the quiet distress of her stepsister Helen LaFave, who is four years younger than Bachmann and grew up admiring her. LaFave had been in a committed lesbian relationship for 18 years, and it pained her that Bachmann was leading the charge to make it impossible for her and her partner to marry. She had twice written her stepsister letters that went unanswered.
“It’s been very hurtful,” LaFave, who grants few interviews, said last month. “It affects me and it affects my relationship and it affects my partner. There are so many other issues that a person could champion in public life.”
In 2006, Bachmann walked into a tense hearing room in the state Capitol in St. Paul for a parsing of her proposal. There, in a crowd of activists, academics and religious leaders, were familiar faces: LaFave, her partner and a small group of relatives supporting them.
LaFave wasn’t seeking a confrontation. She wanted to be a visual reminder that real people like her and her partner would be affected. To plant a seed of doubt in Bachmann about what she was doing.
She caught her stepsister’s eye. But as the hearing ended and word trickled out about LaFave’s presence, both women were besieged by reporters.
They never talked. And Bachmann never backed down.
In politics and in her personal life, Michele Bachmann is defined by a striking certitude. Throughout her long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the 55-year-old congresswoman has portrayed herself as a leader who doesn’t waffle. Who upholds bedrock beliefs. Who tells it like it is.
Steady, planted, as constant as Iowa corn. “The consistent conservative,” the fervent born-again Christian says on the stump.
In the world she would create, the health-care reform law would be scrapped, the tax code would be rewritten, abortion and same-sex marriage would not be allowed, and schools could teach intelligent design along with evolution. God would be a more welcome presence in public life. “Today you’re not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ at the post office,” she complains.
Bachmann’s admirers think of her as the real deal, a tea party favorite who does not dress up her conservatism with layers of ambiguity and political correctness. In a recent debate, as candidates were asked about interrogation tactics in the fight against terrorism, Bachmann was unapologetic in her support of waterboarding. “I think it was very effective and gained information for our country,” she said.