Adios, Michele Bachmann

MINNEAPOLIS – Michele Bachmann’s campaign ended its pathetic final tour of Iowa in a Marriott right next to my hotel. It was closer than the inevitable Perkins, which I never got a chance to patronize, and closer than Rick Perry’s campaign office, which produced a sad and steady stream of Texans trying not to look like they understood reality.

I mention this because I’ve narrowly missed out on attending Bachmann’s final press conference as a presidential candidate. Early this morning her campaign started admitting that South Carolina appearances had been scrapped; right after that, a presser on the “Iowa caucus results” was scheduled for 10 a.m. No secret about what this is, and a little fitting that it would happen as reporters were tossing gear in suitcases and leaving Iowa. We missed this speech, in which Bachmann called her campaign “the next stepping stone” of the Tea Party movement.

Some stone. She pulled 5 percent of the vote, and barely outmatched the total number of ballots she won at the August 13, 2011 straw poll in Ames. Jennifer Rubin (who I’ve been having a reckoning with on Twitter, over her early and wise decision to actually cover Rick Santorum), explains the downfall:

[S]he was big-footed by a better funded but ultimately flawed candidate in the person of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who attracted the same segment of the electorate that was essential to her success.

But she also failed in several significant ways to sustain the momentum after her victory in the Ames straw poll. She is often described as an “episodic” politician, one who uses moments and individual speeches to grab attention but can’t sustain a message in between events. Unlike Mitt Romney, who had a “private sector leader” persona, or Rick Santorum, who brought a blue-collar ethos to an integrated message that appealed to both social and economic conservatives, she did not clearly define a unique message. She was an all-purpose consistent conservative, but not much more.

She did try hard, didn’t she? The voter introduced to Bachmann at a debate learned that she was a tax attorney (actually, former), a small businesswoman (actually, her husband’s business), an accidental politician (actually, she worked for her first State Senate race – she didn’t win by accident), a swing district winner (actually, her district is much more Republican than the rest of Minnesota) and a leader of the Tea Party in Congress (actually… you see where I’m going with this, but the jist is that her Tea Party Caucus didn’t do much). Bachmann had a reality problem, working too hard, and with too little believability, to describe herself as the candidate who had it all. She didn’t. None of the candidates did. I’ve been impressed by Bachmann’s ability to absorb and analyze local business issues in small settings, but a lot of members of Congress can do that. There was no reason to believe that she could play at a higher level; in doing so, she faded her swatch of the Tea Party flag.