Cover of Newsweek featuring Michele Bachmann, August 15, 2011. (Photo from Newsweek) Downloaded with permission from Newsweek

The controversy over a photo of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann that appears on the cover of Newsweek magazine this week has drawn comment from people all over the political world.

Except for one: Bachmann herself.

On the campaign trail in Iowa, she said that she hadn’t seen the photo; her campaign team told NBC that the photo was from a lighting session and was not their preferred picture but have issued no formal statement about the image. And, none of her top aides returned a Fix email seeking comment on it.

That (relative) silence affirms a simple but important truth of this campaign: Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin.

(Close readers of the Fix know that we have already laid out a laundry list of how the two womens’ political approaches differ.)

Palin, the former governor of Alaska, has spent the last several years pursuing an aggressive strategy aimed at villainizing the lamestream, er, mainstream media — insisting that they regularly print inaccuracies about her and her family.

Her no-grievance-left-unanswered approach has won her kudos among her supporters but has left voters outside of the base confused as to what issues she truly cares about besides the alleged bias of the media.

Bachmann’s refusal to engage in an extended back and forth over the Newsweek cover coupled with her approach to stories raising questions about her ability to cope with migraine headaches suggests she is taking a very different tack.

During the migraine episode and now with the Newsweek flap, Bachmann is hewing rigidly to her economic/jobs message — knowing that the vast majority of people who will vote for her in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have the economy and not much else on their minds right now.

What Bachmann grasps that Palin either didn’t/doesn’t (or chose not to) is that by commenting on these questions of media bias only leads to more and more stories. It’s like pouring a can of lighter fluid on a small fire.

And, while an extended media critique can endear a Republican candidate — or any candidate for that matter — to some segment of the party’s base, it’s ultimately is a bit of a cul-de-sac issue particularly when the country’s faces such significant economic challenges. (Check out our piece about the limits of the “blame the media” strategy.)

The broader strategic calculation Bachmann appears to have made is that she needs to expand beyond her political base rather than simply deepen her supporters’ connection to her in order to be something more than a sideshow in the nomination fight.

It’s the right one.

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