Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann made more noise and raised more money than any other backbencher in the House Republican Caucus during the 2010 election cycle. She even picked her own slate of Senate candidates – Tea Party-aligned outsiders who were at odds with the party leadership – and raised money for them. After the votes were counted and Republicans took charge of the House, Bachmann made her demand. She wanted a leadership role.
Bachmann started campaigning for the chairmanship of the party’s suddenly-enlarged caucus in the House, the No. 4 GOP leadership position in the chamber. It was the first Tea Party bid for a top post, but soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner, soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and soon-to-be House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy made it quite clear that Bachmann wasn’t their candidate for the post. “Moving forward, I believe that there is no better choice than Jeb Hensarling to serve as the next Chairman of the House Republican Conference,” announced Cantor, who added what a lot of analysts took as a jab at Bachmann: “Our majority must produce results…”
Bachmann got the message that there was no place for her in the formal leadership of the House. So she quit the race.
But she did not accept defeat. She simply shifted focus… to the presidential race of 2012.
If she could not be a House leader, Bachmann would go around the leaders and make a bigger name for herself – and,perhaps, displace Sarah Palin as the political face of the Tea Party movement.
On State of the Union night, the image-obsessed, communication-savvy congresswoman grabbed the spotlight from her fellow Republicans – aided by cable networks such as CNN that broadcast her remarks in full, as if she was an official responder – from the very Republican leaders who tried to push her to the sidelines,
The party’s chosen spokesman, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, had to compete not just with a resurgent Barack Obama but with Bachmann for the attention of the American people.
So how did the nightmare scenario for Ryan and the Republican leadership play out?
Ryan offered a stylistically — if not quite factually –credible response to Obama. Smart and smooth, he made none of the missteps that wrecked previous State of the Union responses by the likes of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He sugarcoated the foulest pieces of the GOP agenda – privatization of Social Security and the crushing of the Medicare and Medicaid programs – and got his message across as effectively as any responder ever does. But his speech was short of Reagan-esque optimism and long on numbers. He sounded a bit more like a high school economics teacher than a match for the president.