Given a night to sleep on it, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced in an Iowa news conference a few minutes ago that she would leave the GOP presidential race. Coming in last in her home state was too heavy a blow from which to recover. She left open the possibility that she will run for reelection to the House.
She gave a heartfelt message stressing the need to beat President Obama and echoing her internationalist foreign policy and limited government ethos. She was subdued, revealing the exhaustion that comes with 18-hour days and a crushing loss. We must “rally around” the person the party selects, she urged those in attendance. She was gracious and eloquent, leaving in classy fashion.
So why did she lose? The simple answer is that she was big-footed by a better funded but ultimately flawed candidate in the person of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who attracted the same segment of the electorate that was essential to her success.
But she also failed in several significant ways to sustain the momentum after her victory in the Ames straw poll. She is often described as an “episodic” politician, one who uses moments and individual speeches to grab attention but can’t sustain a message in between events. Unlike Mitt Romney, who had a “private sector leader” persona, or Rick Santorum, who brought a blue-collar ethos to an integrated message that appealed to both social and economic conservatives, she did not clearly define a unique message. She was an all-purpose consistent conservative, but not much more.
There was more, of course. The gravitas and calm that she exudes in one-one-one interviews never came out in debates and speeches. She seemed less sober and less knowledgable than she is.
And finally, her record of opposition to ObamaCare and the entire Obama agenda, in the end, proved insufficient. Without legislative accomplishments and an executive office in her background, she never quite shook the persona of a conservative motivator and grassroots leader. She is a darling of the right, but she didn’t seem yet ready for the presidency.
She has capabilities greater than many of the also-rans in the race. She has considerable intelligence and fortitude. Should she decide to buckle down, become expert on a range of issues and dedicate herself to the conservative movement and to dislodging Obama, she can have a second act. Doesn’t everyone in America get one?