The XX Factor

Bachmann Taking on Palin’s Mothering?

Ed Rollins, the newly hired adviser to Michele Bachmann’s likely presidential bid, has prompted heavy coverage with his criticism of possible presidential contender Sarah Palin, suggesting she’s less “intelligent” – and no more “attractive” than – his boss. (I counted at least four headlines today on Politico alone: the original story, the posting about Palin’s chief of staff demanding a “retraction,” the one about Rollins apologizing, and the one covering a statement that the Minnesota congresswoman has “nothing but respect and admiration” for Palin.) But in a lesser-noticed video interview recently with Ralph Reed, Bachmann recently proved she, too, can swipe at the former Alaska governor – albeit more subtly. Was it intentional?

PoliticsUSA picks up on the interview , in which Bachmann appears to be touting a reason why she’s a better (potential) candidate: She doesn’t have small children at home. Bachmann doesn’t directly compare herself to Palin, but she makes this observation in response to a question in which Reed specifically invokes Palin, as well as other politicians. Reed asks Bachmann whether she sees a rising generation of female politicians “of conservative convictions, of Christian faith, of a belief that you can be successful outside the home but also continue to embrace the values of marriage, of family?”

“I do,” Bachmann says, and goes on to muse about how to balance family and a political career. “I’m 55 years old, I’ve learned that you can have it all, but not all at once.” Mother of five and foster mother to 23, she says that “this fall our youngest two will go off to college, so we’re coming to the conclusion now of 29 years of parenting, and I think that’s one life lesson that you learn. That sometimes you just need to have patience and wait to do certain things in your life.”

Palin, of course, has five children, three of them under the age of 20. This fact has been underscored by the constant presence on her “One Nation” “vacation” bus tour of 10-year-old Piper Palin. The travails of Palin’s children, and in particular her daughter Bristol, are so well-known they don’t need to be invoked in order to be immediately recalled. (Heck, I’m not even gonna link to anything.) Bachmann’s comments immediately stir up questions about Palin’s parenting, fair or not, including the discomfort some people had when, as the mother of an infant with Down Syndrome, Palin first came on the national scene as a vice presidential candidate. Bachmann’s appeal to religious voters adds a twist, which PoliticsUSA’s Sarah Jones puts well: “The men in the GOP can’t say suggest that a woman can’t do it all, but Bachmann can because she has the fundamentalist Christian cover of being mega-mother.”

The latest debate about Bachmann’s candidacy is how she compares to Palin – whether or not they are identical as far as voters or the press is concerned, and whether Bachmann should be taken more seriously . (“What is the one thing that sets you apart from Sarah Palin?” George Stephanopoulos recently asked her.) It makes sense that Bachmann would try to differentiate herself.

Which begs the question: Was this a purposeful swipe on Bachmann’s part? In a way, it doesn’t matter. Even if it wasn’t, Bachmann is about to enter a presidential race in which she will endure a level of scrutiny she hasn’t experienced before, despite all her television appearances. She has already faced legitimate questions about her discipline . She has a history of wild and wildly inaccurate statements . If she can’t foresee the implications of what she’s saying as she’s saying it, woe unto Ed Rollins, not the other way around. He’ll have his work cut out for him.