Michele Bachmann’s departure from the US congress is great news for my little corner of the world. Her retirement is another step in the right (or, technically, left) direction for Minnesota’s progressives, who are on something of a roll lately with the defeat of a voter ID law and the passage of marriage equality legislation. (We did lose gay rights advocate and Vikings football punter Chris Kluwe, and spring seems to have been cancelled – but other than that, it’s been a great year.)
Still, there’s a bittersweet aftertaste to Bachmann’s announcement for Democrats at the national level. Here are the five reasons for Democrats to regret not having Bachmann to kick around anymore.
1) Her outrageous comments were a fundraising goldmine
The Democratic National Committee started going to the Bachmann well of crazy during her early rise as a Tea Party leader, featuring her in an ad about GOP leaders who want to “abolish” Medicare. As her profile grew, and she kept talking, the DNC kept putting up videos about her and using Democrats’ appalled reactions to solicit donations.
It’s impossible to know how much cash came into the committee on the back of Bachmann’s kookiness and fact-mangling – though the DNC could definitely tell us – but it must’ve been working, because political parties don’t keep doing things that don’t work. It should be noted that Bachmann herself was a prodigious fundraiser, garnering over $15m for her race in 2012 – but Democrats can’t even celebrate a blow to Republicans’ coffers, as Bachmann was notoriously stingy with using her funds to support other GOP candidates. The GOP can’t be hurt by losing money they never had.
2) Her seat is likely to stay Republican
Another Republican will almost certainly succeed her, albeit a more moderate one who will be harder to defeat. Bachmann was an outlier in Minnesota for many reasons, not the least of which being how she fit terribly with her district. Indeed, for the 2014 election, Bachmann wouldn’t even live in the newly redrawn district boundaries. Still, historically, voters in the region tend to elect moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans, including one Republican, Rod Grams, that publicly flirted with both parties. The causes of Bachmann’s close call last November’s with her Democratic challenger can easily be traced to ambivalent Republican voters, who had to choose between the Democrat they didn’t know or the nutcase they did. Given an opportunity to vote for a Republican talking sense, they will mostly likely be happy to support him or her.
3) She might get even crazier
Bachmann’s constituents tolerated her conspiracy theories because she brought federal bacon back home. Minnesota’s sixth district has been the recipient of $1bn in federal spending in the past three years alone.
As difficult as it might be to believe, Bachmann did occasionally censor herself, as when she carefully departed from the spotlight in the aftermath of that close election. Having some sane constituents (though if she is to be believed, she had some real bonkers ones, too) perhaps reined her in. She also backed off her birther claims during the 2012 election. Untethered from good, practical Minnesotan oversight, Bachmann is free to propound whatever messages her fillings are picking up these days – and the DNC can’t even easily fundraise off them.
4) She’ll likely end up on TV
Put “Tea Party politician leaving elected politics” through the Beltway-to-English translator and you get “new Fox News contributor”, or, depending on the emphasis, “think tank president”. Herman Cain, Jim DeMint, Allen West, Newt Gingrich – the list of her predecessors is a long one. Bachmann’s camera-ready hair and makeup, combined with her facility with a soundbite, make the transition an obvious and natural one. She could arguably have more influence as a talking head than as a legislator, especially considering her rather lackluster attendance record as an actual congressperson. Gingrich, after all, even managed to come back to horserace politics with increased legitimacy after a tour as paid speaker and children’s book author.
5) She’s probably not done stirring up a far-right frenzy
If Bachmann gets traction as a pundit, her popularity among sympathetic, far-right groups can be leveraged more effectively. She could focus her crazy and be a fundraising powerhouse for issue-oriented crowds and hyper-local politicians.
Rick Santorum has been scary good at this; even after bowing out of the presidential race, he uses his earnest fearmongering to gin up excitement at venues such as the National Rifle Association convention and, more significantly, Republican gatherings at the county level, where his support can help the creeping far-right agenda that continues to eat away at civil rights in state legislatures. (The most alarming attempts to chisel away at reproductive rights are largely taking place in statehouses.) Bachmann is probably an even more effective messenger than Santorum for these audiences, and she’d be doing it off the radar of many critics – fueling right-wing flames one town at a time.