Minnesota's Bachmann finds herself atop tea party movement, but will it last?

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 8:38 AM

Her Republican colleagues made it clear that she would not have a seat at the leadership table when they take control of the House in January. Rep. Michele Bachmann, they whispered, is too loud, too unruly, too tea party.

But as the Minnesota Republican strode out of the Capitol the other day and onto a leaf-strewn lawn to soak in the love of a few hundred tea party activists waiting to see her, it was undeniable that there are still plenty of people who believe loud, unruly and tea party are just what Congress needs.

If Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner (Ohio) is the commander of the 240-plus Republicans who will be seated in the 112th Congress, Bachmann is a favorite of many of the voters who elected them.

"You are the people who changed the world the first Tuesday in November," she told the crowd. "You came out. You rallied. You called. You e-mailed. You faxed. They wouldn't pick up the phone, and you kept it ringing. . . . There's a chapter in the American history books written just with your name on it."

The crowd enthusiastically received the two-term congresswoman's oft-repeated vow to shrink the federal government, slash the debt, repeal "Obama-care" and restore the constitutional freedoms that an illegitimate president and his "gangster government" are taking from Americans.

"This is insanity economics - insanity politics - and it's not representative of who we are and this rich, beautiful legacy of 234 years," Bachmann said.

Here was Bachmann in her element: freed from the confines of the Capitol and its rules and traditions and hierarchy, surrounded by adoring supporters, a rogue elephant with a microphone.

Many of the people on the lawn knew Bachmann from her frequent appearances on cable television. A TV-ready provocateur with a knack for tossing off bomb-mots, she found a vast audience overnight during the 2008 election when she suggested on MSNBC's "Hardball" that Barack Obama had "anti-American views."

Her words hit home with the tea party set, and Bachmann became a sensation. She raised more money for her reelection this year than any other House candidate, bringing in more than $11 million, much of it from small donations. Fellow Republicans sought her out to appear on stage with them.

To the conservative faithful, she is a smart and telegenic leader - think Sarah Palin with a law degree - who fearlessly lends her voice and energy to the cause of restoring America's greatness.

Now, Bachmann, 54, is trying to convert her television popularity into political influence in Washington, offering herself as a den mother to the incoming Republican freshmen.

But it isn't at all clear that Bachmann's fame will translate into political respect within the Capitol. Many colleagues consider her to be more of a show horse than a workhorse. She has yet to make a mark with a significant piece of legislation and has a reputation as someone more interested in heading to the green room than hitting the books - advancing her own agenda ahead of her party's. She even set up a YouTube channel in which fans can view clips of her television appearances.

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