The XX Factor

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations for Michele Bachmann in the GOP Debates

HANOVER, NH - OCTOBER 11: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (L) speaks as Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks on during a presidential debate hosted by Bloomberg and the Washington Post.

Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

Politico has a story today with the headline, “In Republican Debate, Michele Bachmann Shows Signs of Life.” This confused me, because from what I saw of the debates, the congresswoman from Minnesota got trounced. She made several inaccurate statements (New York has a pretty full accounting of her trip-ups, which include misspeaking about Medicare and misstating the number of children she has raised) and dodged fairly straightforward questions (when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty asked her about Wall Street’s role in the financial meltdown, Bachmann just went into a rant about the Dodd-Frank bill). Bachmann is such a nonentity at this point that she was barely mentioned in many recaps of the debates.

So by what metric is Politico scoring Michele Bachmann’s performance? “She gave serious answers—with the exception of a lighthearted joke comparing Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan to a sign of the devil—and didn’t whiff when Mitt Romney lobbed her a gift softball question.” So basically, she wasn’t a total disaster. She gave “serious” answers—she’s running for president, she sure as hell should be able to give serious answers! And she didn’t whiff on a softball question. C’mon. That’s not the same as still being relevant. Sure, Bachmann is a good public speaker and she has a certain charisma, but to argue that last night’s performance gave her a boost doesn’t seem to have much support.