On Thursday night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told Fox News that she hasn't “had a gaffe or something that I've done that has caused me to fall in the polls.”
The idea that Bachmann hasn’t made any gaffes in her roller-coaster campaign for the 2012 presidential nomination is far-fetched at best. But in a sense, Bachmann is right. Her fall had (almost) everything to do with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and (almost) nothing to do with her misstatements.
Bachmann repeatedly, incorrectly said that the Revolutionary War began in New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts. She praised Waterloo, Iowa as the birthplace of John Wayne — it was actually John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer. She wished Elvis a happy birthday on the anniversary of his death. She claimed, with no evidence, that the HPV vaccine can cause autism.
And those are just the most famous ones.
So Bachmann is gaffe-prone. But that was true when the Minnesota lawmaker rose in polls, and it was correct when she her campaign collapsed. The most damning of her slip-ups, the vaccine claim, came after Bachmann had sunk in surveys
Unlike Perry, whose poll erosion came in the wake of several bad debate performances, Bachmann was gaffe-ing when she was up in polls and gaffe-ing when she was down.
Over the summer, Bachmann was the most viable conservative in a weak field of challengers to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. She was charismatic, a good speaker and had a consistent voting record.
She was already known for getting her facts wrong, but some voters were willing to overlook that — at least temporarily.
Bachmann never had the capacity to expand her appeal far beyond where it was — polling suggested that her numbers only went down as she became better-known. As soon as Perry entered the race, conservatives saw a better option and Bachmann’s brief moment in the sun was over.
Bachmann, who has long struggled with staff turnover and disorganization, also failed to capitalize on any goodwill she’d built in Iowa while building her Ames straw poll victory. Locals complained that she had only visited a handful of counties.
Her then-campaign manager, Ed Rollins, soon quit and later said the organization was a “mess.” Bachmann’s New Hampshire staff soon followed, calling the national campaign “rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel.”
So Bachmann has made more than her share of gaffes in her campaign so far. But there’s no real evidence that they torpedoed her race. Bad strategy, tactics and a narrow base have been far more problematic in causing the sudden free-fall of a candidacy that never recovered.
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