The XX Factor

Bachmann Up Against the Wall

Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images

“Is Michele Bachmann Still a Top-Tier Candidate?” U.S. News & World Report asks, as if she ever truly was, as if a brief perch atop fickle polls this far out from an election counts for much. Last month’s victory at the Ames straw poll, as Amanda ably pointed out, didn’t mean a lot, a fact underscored by Ron Paul’s second-place finish. Bachmann’s heat this summer seemed less a vote of public confidence and more a bubble: the press’s love of a counterintuitive storyline expanding in a low-information atmosphere.

So another debate tonight, and instead of earlier ones, in which low expectations were Bachmann’s friend, now the candidate faces another kind of negative assumption – that’s she’s peaked. Tonight in Simi Valley, Calif., she’ll try to stop a slide that builds momentum with each passing day, exacerbated most recently by the departure of her campaign chief, Ed Rollins, and another top aide.

Politico reports that a source says Bachmann won’t go on the attack unless “someone is going to tell lies about her record,” in which case, “she will tell the truth about theirs.” Which sounds an awful lot like saying’s she’ll go on the attack. It’s hard to imagine how she doesn’t. As the Washington Post points out, this is her make-or-break moment. And if she goes at Rick Perry, who many credit with stealing her momentum, will he hit her back, risking the charges of sexism that can follow a co-ed debate squabble? Or has she become so diminished that he can simply ignore her?