The XX Factor

Michele Bachmann’s Problem Isn’t Her Gender

Michele Bachmann and her phone, “proof” that her Iowa campaign chairman took a payoff to defect to a rival campaign.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

In an illuminating Politico piece on Michele Bachmann’s rise and fall, Bachmann’s advisers are portrayed as believing that “sexism is part of the underlying problem” behind her failure to take off In Iowa. An opinion piece at the Washington Post also points to sexism as a culprit, suggesting that Bachmann’s outspoken conservatism should be right in sync with Republican voters in the state and tenuously surmising that Iowans must not want to vote for Bachmann because she’s a woman.


Hardly. If Bachmann never gets out of Iowa, the reasons will have far more to do with her strange rhetoric, characterized by exaggeration and more than a hint of paranoia. Because of our cultural stereotypes about female emotionality, it may be especially dangerous for a female candidate to seem unreliable or angry, but erratic behavior does no candidate any good. (See: Newt Gingrich.) As the Politico piece reminds us, Bachmann claimed that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation without a shred of evidence to back it up. She accused her Iowa chair of taking a payoff when he defected to Ron Paul’s campaign this week. She said Gingrich was using cash to buy Tea Party support in South Carolina. (“Money is changing hands,” she said ominously.) Talking Points Memo reports that Bachmann recently claimed  Facebook, Google, and NBC are in cahoots with Obama to promote his re-election. Statements like these don’t communicate “presidential material” to voters. They don’t communicate stability and long-term planning. They suggest frustration and fear–a candidate who’s bogged down in her own defeat.

Of course, none of this is new. Bachmann has a long history of high staff turnover, dating back to well before she dipped her toes in presidential waters. She has said that Barack Obama’s tax policies amounted to “shackles and chains,” and warned of “politically correct” “re-education camps.” Twin this a tendency toward outrageousness with her insularity and difficulty taking advice, and you have a recipe for implosion. Who thought that when Bachmann became a presidential candidate she would suddenly become more disciplined and circumspect than she was as a congresswoman?