- Blog Post
- Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.
Michele Bachmann made some news at last night’s rather sedate GOP presidential debate: she’s officially running for president. Credit Bachmann for impeccable timing. If you want people to know that you are running for president, then announce the news when the greatest number of people is paying attention. The announcement was carefully planned. As Bachmann was telling CNN’s John King and everyone else that she was all in for the race to the White House, her old website went down and her new Bachmann for President website went up. If Bachmann wins the presidency, she would become the first woman to be president. She would also become only the second person born in Iowa ever to become president, and the first president since John Tyler to have a degree from the College of William and Mary.
- Full Name: Michele Marie Bachmann (née Amble)
- Date of Birth: April 6, 1956
- Place of Birth: Waterloo, Iowa
- Religion: Lutheran
- Marital Status: Married (Marcus Bachmann)
- Children: Lucas, Harrison, Elisa, Caroline, Sophia
- Alma Mater: BA Winona State University, JD Oral Roberts University, LLM College of William and Mary
- Political Offices Held: Minnesota State Senate 2000-2007, U.S. House of Representatives 2007 – present
What Supporters Say. U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has not endorsed anyone yet, but he says nice things about Bachmann:
Face to face, one on one, any size group you want to talk about, she’s a great retail politician.
Kent Sorenson, an Iowa state senator and a leader in the Tea Party movement has thrown his support behind Bachmann rather than another Tea Party favorite, Sarah Palin:
I don’t want to bash Sarah Palin, but she lacks substance. I believe Michele Bachmann has more substance. I think she’d mop the floor with her, if you want me to be frank.
What Critics Say. Bachmann’s former chief of staff Ron Carey, who resigned after five months, is not a fan:
While she passes the conservative test, my opinion from my association with her is she’s not going to be an electable candidate for us. And even if she were elected I don’t believe she would be ready for the position of the president of the United States.
Republican strategist David Roederer also questions Bachmann’s electability:
I’m not sure she has the ability to articulate a convincing argument without appearing shrill.
Mike Murphy is another Republican strategist who dismisses Bachmann’s bid:
Michele Bachmann makes Sarah Palin look like Count Metternich. Luckily the Bachmann effect will be relatively small.
Minnesota State Senator Tarryl Clark challenged Bachmann in the 2010 general election. She attacked Bachmann for ignoring her district in central Minnesota and focusing instead on special interests in Washington:
Click here to view this video on YouTube.
Stories You Will Hear More About. Bachmann was born in Waterloo, Iowa. Both her parents graduated from Waterloo East High School. Bachmann recalls moving to Minnesota, a state she has grown to love and represent in Congress, as a traumatic experience:
I will never forget the day in sixth grade when my parents came to tell us that my dad had taken a job at Honeywell up in Minneapolis and they were asking us--not asking--telling us that we were going to move up to Minneapolis and I remember crying. The tears came down my cheeks and I said, ‘I just don’t want to leave Iowa. I love Iowa,’ and I said, ‘Des Moines is our capital. How can I move to another state where Des Moines is not our capital?’ My tears had no effect on my parents. We moved anyway.
(The Four TWE Children were all born in Iowa, though in their case it was Iowa City rather than Waterloo. The Oldest TWE Child also cried when told he was moving away from Iowa. However, he never invoked Des Moines as a reason to stay.)
Bachmann’s parents eventually divorced. Bachmann continued living with her mother in Minnesota; her dad “was not around.” While Bachmann says her family was “middle-class” before the divorce, after the split, the family “went below poverty.”
Bachmann met her husband Marcus in college while working on Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign. Yes, the Carter campaign. Bachmann was raised a Democrat; she switched to the Republican Party after reading a book by Gore Vidal that she thought was “mocking our founding fathers.”
Bachmann and Marcus are both born-again Christians. They have five children together, and they have been foster parents to twenty-three children. Bachmann says of her family decisions:
We love kids, number one. But our hearts are broken for at-risk kids. You never know how much you can do until you’re stretched. We didn’t know if we could do it. And it worked out beautifully. By the fourth child you start getting a system. By the time you have your fifth baby, the oldest is old enough to actually start helping and it works pretty well. After five children, honestly, it’s all downhill and you just have one big party.
The Bachmann’s now own a Christian counseling practice. Marcus is Dr. Bachmann, a clinical therapist, who explains on the practice website that his “call is to minister to the needs of people in a practical, caring and sensitive way.”
Bachmann first became involved in politics in 1993 when she began speaking out against the Minnesota state-mandated education standard. Six years later, she ran for the Stillwater, Minnesota school board. She lost the bid, but launched her political career. Bachmann was elected to the Minnesota State Senate in 2000.
Bachmann first gained national attention in October 2008 when she said that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama “may have anti-American views.” She has since become a conservative crowd favorite for her rapid delivery of one-liners, ranging from “what we need is a change of address form for the person living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” to calling judges who vote in favor of gay marriage “black-robed masters.”
Bachmann announced in 2009 that she would not fully complete her 2010 Census form. She opposes the way that the Census is conducted because Census data gathered in 1940 aided in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in internment camps:
Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps.
Bachmann founded the Congressional Tea Party Caucus last July. She is often compared to another leading figure in the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin:
The parallels between Bachmann and Palin are hard to ignore, up to and including their backgrounds as minor beauty pageant contestants. Both women are politically rooted in the anti-abortion movement, having earned the loyalty of anti-choicers by "walking the walk" — Palin by carrying to term a child with a severe disability, and Bachmann by serving as a foster parent to 23 children (in addition to her own five), plus walking a few abortion clinic picket lines over the years. Both candidates are heroes of the Tea Party movement (Bachmann is the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus). And both have regularly played fast and loose with facts and history, constantly treading the boundary between ideologically loaded viewpoint and sheer ignorance.
Bachmann in Her Own Words. Bachmann, who is of Norwegian descent, calls herself an “Iowegian,” short for “Norwegian Iowan.”
Bachmann summed up her approach to politics back in 2008:
I have strong views.
Bachmann says she isn’t afraid to stand up for those views, even if they are unpopular:
I have a defined set of core values and beliefs and I’ve been articulating those beliefs for a long time. People appreciate that through thick and thin, I’ve been on the politically incorrect side now for really all nine years I’ve been in politics.
Bachmann is open about her religious convictions. She has described herself as a
Fool for Christ.
Our biological kids were going to a little private Lutheran school in Stillwater, but our foster children were [required] by state law to be in public school. I wasn’t anti–public school, but I was nervous about what I saw them bringing home in the backpack…A lot of it had to do with politically correct indoctrination. So I started investigating what in the world is going on with education in Minnesota…Your perfect example is from the University of Minnesota’s school of education—their new standard . . . a prescribed level of indoctrination that students [are tested on] in order to matriculate. That’s wrong. The state should not impose a value system in order to receive a teaching certificate. That’s a First Amendment issue.
The Campaign Book. Nothing yet, but in April Bachmann said she was “in the early talking stages” of writing a book.
Foreign Policy Views. Bachmann is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She says that foreign affairs is “an area of fascination and study for me”:
I think a person is well served to be perennially a student of foreign policy because we live in an interconnected world. It’s important we understand each other.
Bachmann thinks that President Obama needs to be tougher on foreign policy:
Our Peace Prize-winning president is very busy bowing these days to kings. He is bending down to dictators, and he is brown-nosing the elites that are in Europe, and he’s babying the jihadists who are following Sharia-compliant terrorism…And he’s accomplishing something nobody thought even possible: He’s making Jimmy Carter look like a Rambo tough guy.
But Libya was not the right place to get tough in Bachmann’s view. The day before Operation Odyssey Dawn began, she said:
There’s no question that Qaddafi is not a great guy, that the people of Libya would be better off without him. However, on that score I’m reluctant to go in, and I’ll tell you why: We don’t know who the opposition is. We have no idea, and no intelligence community will tell you that we know who the opposition is.
Earlier this month, Bachmann was one of eighty-seven Republicans who voted for the resolution that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced to require President Obama to end U.S. involvement in Libya within fifteen days. The measure failed 148-265. Bachmann also voted for the resolution that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) introduced to ban the use of ground forces in Libya and scold President Obama for intervening without congressional approval.
Bachmann is skeptical of the value of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq:
I’m tired of Afghanistan and Iraq, too. I think we need to get out. I think Afghanistan is—on many, many levels, it doesn’t seem we’re gaining any ground. I want to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan. So, let’s get them out as quickly as we can. But at the same time, I don’t want to tell the generals when they’re going to get out. That [sic] really needs to be the experts.
So what criteria would a President Bachmann use when deciding when to intervene militarily overseas?
My view of foreign policy is that we need to be careful and circumspect about United States intervention in any foreign nation. Number one, does that nation pose a threat to the United States? Number two, have they attacked the United States? Number three, are there vital American national interests at stake? Number four: the security of the American people.
Bachmann spent a summer working on a Kibbutz in Israel after high school. She summarized her support for Israel at last year’s AIPAC policy conference:
I have been a long time supporter of Israel…I have a tremendous love for Israel, and great admiration for the Israeli people. I am a Christian, but I consider my heritage Jewish, because it is the foundation, the roots of my faith as a Christian.
Bachmann thought Obama’s speech last month on U.S. policy in the Middle East constituted “a shocking display of betrayal towards our ally.” She added:
America has stood with Israel since President Harry Truman recognized Israel a mere eleven minutes after Israel became a state in 1948. But during his tenure as President of the United States, President Obama has initiated a policy which shows contempt for Israel’s concern and safety. In an era dubbed the “Arab Spring” we have seen increased volatility in the Middle East region, and President Obama has only added to the heightened hostility by calling on Israel to return to the 1967 borders. I disagree with President Obama and I stand with our friend Israel 100 percent. I am saddened and disappointed deeply by President Obama’s statement.
Bachmann has sometimes gotten her foreign policy facts mixed up. In 2007 she told a Minnesota newspaper that the United States should stay the course in Iraq because:
Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It’s because they’ve already decided that they’re going to partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There’s already an agreement made.
They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy
Bachmann later said that her comments had been “misconstrued.” Northern Iraq is dominated by Sunni Kurds, and western Iraq by Sunni Arabs. Neither group has much interest in allying with Shiite Persians.
Target Audience. Bachmann loves social conservatives, and they love her. She has taken hard-line conservative positions on numerous hot-button social issues. Social conservatives are a powerful force in two of the GOP’s first three nominating states, Iowa and South Carolina.
Major Strengths. Bachmann brings three clear strengths to the GOP race. First, she has impeccable social conservative credentials, and social conservatives vote. Second, she is a master of “buzz.” Her rousing speeches draw crowds—and not just any crowds, but ones that jump to their feet and cheer. She also knows how to use TV, and especially Fox News, to get her message out. These first two strengths lead to a third: she can raise money—the mother’s milk of politics—with the best of them. She broke the record for money raised during a House race in 2010, when she raked in over $13 million. To put that in perspective, the average House campaign raised around $1 million dollars.
Bachmann also has one additional advantage at the start: she was born in Iowa. That means a lot to many Iowans, and Bachmann knows it. She repeatedly mentions her roots in the Hawkeye state, and her enthusiasm would make even a member of the Chamber of Commerce blush:
Just a great state (with) the best people, the most down-home people, family people and I think that’s why the Caucuses—the political Caucuses—need to always start here in Iowa because it’s kind of the center of the nation, but it’s also the heartbeat of the nation where the real people in this country are really at, what the real people think about Washington, D.C. is thinking…I think Iowa gets it. I think Iowa people get it.
TWE lived in Iowa for twelve years and is very fond of Iowans. Go Hawks!
Major Weaknesses. Bachmann’s challenge is to win over voters who aren’t social conservatives and/or Tea Party fans. That means the majority of Americans. That could be difficult to do. She has never held an executive position, and she doesn’t have a track record of turning policy ideas into law. She also looks to have a problem with establishment Republicans, who worry that she will pull the GOP too far to the right. The New York Times summarized Bachmann’s challenge as follows:
While her credibility with the Tea Party movement may be her biggest asset, it may also be a hindrance in attracting independent voters and party regulars in the Republican primary. Her attempts, for example, to seek a House leadership position after the Tea Party movement made strong gains in the 2010 midterm elections, failed when it became clear that she was attracting little support. Her decision to give a separate rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address was ill-received by establishment Republicans.
Bachmann also has no experience running a national campaign, which is quite an undertaking. Her congressional staff has experienced unusually high turnover; she has gone through four chiefs of staff since 2007.
Finally, Bachmann’s strong words and strong views makes it inevitable that groups that hold different positions will mobilize against her.
Bachmann in Depth. The New Republic argues that even if Bachmann doesn’t rack up victories in the 2012 race, she could still “wreak havoc on the field.” Politico gives reasons that lead some Democrats to label Bachmann “public enemy no. 1”and explains why she poses a challenge for the GOP. Likewise, Bachmann vented her frustration with the left in an interview with MSNBC’s “Hardball” during the Obama-McCain race:
Click here to view this video on YouTube.
Odds for Winning the Nomination. In a June 2011 Quinnipiac University poll, Bachmann received 6 percent support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. As for her betting odds? Paddy Power says they are at 14/1.