Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her 2014 exit from Congress with a political grace too seldom seen in the seven years she has controversially served Minnesota’s Sixth District in Washington, D.C.
Wednesday’s surprise release of a video in which the Tea Party firebrand said she will not seek a fifth term was classic Bachmann, with its flattering lighting, tightly controlled message and impeccable predawn timing designed to maximize morning news headlines and, by extension, energize her personal brand.
But the broader timing, to Bachmann’s credit, also benefits her political party and, more important, the voters in her Republican stronghold of a district. They now have an opportunity to elect a more effective and credible representative.
Coming well more than a year before the 2014 election, Bachmann’s announcement gives the GOP ample time to find and fund a strong new candidate — one capable not only of winning next year but of leveraging this solidly Republican seat to become a forceful advocate for constituents and a next-generation national leader for the party.
In her video, Bachmann gives thanks for the “unbelievable opportunity” to serve the Sixth, which stretches from St. Cloud through the Twin Cities area’s northern suburbs. The question now is whether her party will seize the unbelievable opportunity it has to distance itself from her self-serving politics and field the candidate of stature her district deserves.
In many ways, Bachmann’s departure puts Minnesota Republicans at a crossroads; the path the party chooses could determine its future. Will Republicans continue to advance candidates, like 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills, who appeal only to a narrow band of ideological purists? Or will the GOP now put a priority on supporting mainstream conservatives capable of accumulating the congressional tenure and clout needed to make a real difference for Minnesotans?
Fielding a candidate known for hard work and collegiality in addition to conservative views — current Minnesota Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen are good models — would signal a welcome shift back toward pragmatism.
Whoever does carry the GOP banner next year in the Sixth District will face a tough challenger in St. Cloud native and AmericInn founder Jim Graves, a Democrat.
Graves came within about 4,300 votes of defeating Bachmann in 2012, despite a vast disadvantage in fundraising and name recognition. He was, and remains, a solid candidate. But his near-upset had more to do with Bachmann’s weaknesses than his strengths.
After four terms in Congress and a short-lived run for president in 2012, Bachmann had demonstrated that her relentless stream of half-truths, conspiracy theories, shopworn anti-Obamacare rhetoric and conservative media appearances made her a political headliner but did little for her district.
While she deserves credit for helping to make the St. Croix River Crossing bridge a reality, her portfolio of legislative accomplishments is embarrassingly thin. She provided bare-minimum congressional service to her constituents.
Bachmann’s announcement Wednesday acknowledged none of these weaknesses. Her decision not to run had nothing to do with the close call against Graves in 2012, she said. Nor did it have anything to do, she said, with an ongoing ethics and campaign finance probe into her presidential campaign.
Instead, Bachmann noted that presidents are limited to eight years in office, and that eight years of serving in Congress was enough for her on a personal and professional level.
While this page has disagreed with Bachmann on most issues, we agree with her on this. Eight years of her representation is more than enough — and it’s time to move on.
Bachmann is the latest in a long line of politicians from this state who have become nationally known. But whereas many of the others were respected for their achievements, Bachmann’s prominence was based mostly on the notoriety caused by her outside-the-mainstream views and outlandish statements. Her all-about-me personal style alienated even her own party leaders.
It’s impossible to consider her career without regret. She has immense political gifts: poise, confidence, charisma, speaking skills. Had she employed them more often in service of her district and state, and in support of a more responsible conservative vision, she might now be announcing new political horizons instead of her departure.