Michele Bachmann was as much a tea party hero as she was a constant pain in the neck for Republican operatives concerned with the party’s national image. That stark contrast was well on display Tuesday as the GOP reacted to the Minnesota Republican congresswoman’s decision not to seek reelection in 2014: sorrow and disappointment from the right-wing faithful, relief and gratitude from operatives who want what’s best for the party.
And as deeply as liberals detested Bachmann and everything she stood for, she was a dream come true for Democrats who profit politically from highlighting GOP radicalism.
“Bachmann fit the political tea party moment perfectly,” veteran Republican strategist John Feehery told TPM. “But that moment passed.”A former House Republican aide said Bachmann’s retirement will make it easier for the GOP to continue winning in her conservative-leaning district.
“Crazy members of Congress come, crazy members of Congress go — in both parties,” the aide said. “The biggest impact will be felt by reporters, who loved to quote her and get her saying outlandish things. The fact is that there’s no reason Democrats should have ever made this seat competitive, and without Bachmann there now, it won’t be.”
But to the tea party faithful, Bachmann is a once-in-a-generation star who refuses to shy away from a fight or let political correctness get in the way of truth-telling.
“As a presidential candidate, Bachmann raised the Tea Party profile to new heights, and her contributions to the movement will be long standing,” said Sal Russo, a top activist with Tea Party Express. “It is with great disappointment we learn she will not seek reelection to Congress in 2014. However, we know that her fight for liberty and free markets will not stop at the end of her term. We look forward to working with her as she continues her journey as an influential conservative leader.”
It’s that sort of conservative enthusiasm that motivated House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to publicly thank Bachmann and praise her “courageous voice for freedom.”
Thanks @michelebachmann for your years of service. A courageous voice for freedom in the people’s House.
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) May 29, 2013
Bachmann’s announcement that she will retire comes amid a tough reelection battle and an FBI and congressional investigation into potential campaign finance violations during her presidential run. She insists neither of those two factors affected her decision.
Andy Parrish, her former chief of staff, said Tuesday on MSNBC the congresswoman is being accused of wrongdoing because she’s a conservative star.
“Look, she’s a lightning rod, a conservative lightning rod, a conservative hero. We don’t have many conservatives,” he said. “I think that when you can kind of poke the cage a bit, I think people do that. Here’s a great opportunity, I think, for sort of some individuals to try to make a name for themselves, get a bit of press and try to poke at her.”
The high-water mark of Bachmann’s career was winning the 2011 Ames straw poll in Iowa. But her presidential ambitions — and congressional career — all went downhill from there.
As far as Democrats are concerned, they admit Bachmann has been a boon to their fundraising but insist she revolutionized the GOP in a fundamental, enduring way.
“Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party brand of extremism and obstruction have infected the entire Republican Congress, and her influence shows no signs of waning,” said Emily Bittner of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose press release used variations of the word “extreme” six times.
“Bachman’s retirement is bad for journalists and Democrats but good for the country,” said Guy Cecil, who runs the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “I think I will side with the country.”