Bob Dole took to Fox News last Sunday to share his views on the state of the Republican Party. Dole said he doubted that Ronald Reagan would be welcome in the current GOP (echoing what Jeb Bush said last year about the Gipper and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush). Dole said the party should hang a "closed for repairs" sign outside its door.
"It seems almost unreal that we can't get together on a budget or legislation," he said.
When he spoke, a vision of Michele Bachmann popped into my head. To me, she's the epitome of what he was talking about. Maybe the Minnesota congresswoman thought the same thing.
Three days after Dole's interview aired, Bachmann said she would not run for reelection in 2014. In her nearly nine-minute video, she spoke of term limits (a change in position) and was defensive about her news.
"Be assured, my decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being reelected to Congress," she said. "I've always in the past defeated candidates that were capable, qualified, and well-funded. And I have every confidence that, if I ran, I would again defeat the individual that I defeated last year, who recently announced that he is once again running.
"And rest assured, this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff. It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign, and I have no reason to believe that that was not the case."
Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
In 2012, despite an enormous fund-raising advantage and running in Minnesota's most conservative congressional district, which Mitt Romney won by 15 points, Bachmann defeated Democrat Jim Graves by only 1.2 percentage points. Now, the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics are looking into payments to an Iowa state senator who worked for her 2012 presidential campaign, and Politico recently reported the FBI has joined the probe.
Bachmann epitomizes what the Congress has become: polarized, pugilistic, and pernicious. She leaves with no legislative accomplishments, unless one considers obstructionism an achievement. Yet she's become a face of the GOP while proving to be a fund-raising magnet.
In Dole's era, these attributes would not have distinguished Bachmann. Then, you were reelected, established seniority, and were afforded increased positions of power. Dole, for example, a decorated World War II veteran, represented his Kansas constituents in the House and Senate for 35 years, capping off his career as Senate majority leader. Now the path is easier. To become a national figure, just say something incendiary, like, "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?"
I've never been bothered by her mixing up Concord, N.H., with Concord, Mass. I'll even defend her conflating actor John Wayne and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. (More problematic was saying that our Founders sought to end slavery and using as an example John Quincy Adams, who turned 9 the month the Declaration of Independence was signed.)
My problem with Bachmann is her recklessness. When Rick Perry was taking a beating among the GOP faithful during the 2012 presidential primary for ordering the HPV vaccine for young girls, Bachmann claimed on Today that she'd met a mother who supposedly said the vaccine caused her daughter's mental retardation.
Google Bachmann and PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning website of the St. Petersburg Times that has caught her speaking more untruths than any other member of Congress. Last month, she earned a "pants on fire" for claiming that Obamacare will put the IRS "in charge" of a "huge national database" that will include Americans' "personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest secrets."
In 2011, PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told Minnesota Public Radio: "We have checked her 13 times, and [found] seven of her claims to be false and six have been found to be ridiculously false."
Yet, when caught speaking untruths, she has been consistently brazen, never admitting her error.
The question isn't why Bachman is leaving. It's how did she last four terms. In part, it's because, like so many of her colleagues, she represents a homogeneous district and wasn't held accountable for her embarrassments. Still, her margins of victory were small.
She first ran for Congress in 2006, when the Republican incumbent didn't seek reelection. In a three-way race, she won with 50 percent of the vote. Two years later, in another three-way race, she won with 46.4 percent, just three percentage points ahead of the Democrat. In the tea-party year of 2010, she was reelected with 52.5 percent of the vote. For 2012, the district had been redrawn to be even more accommodating for Bachmann.
Daniel J.B. Hofrenning, a professor of political science at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota, concurred that Bachmann benefited from representing a homogenous district, but not as a result of legislative gerrymandering. The redistricting was done by a judicial panel. Still, he told me, "they made Bachmann's district more conservative."
Yet, even in what was arguably the most conducive district in the country for her brand of zealotry, she barely won.
Hofrenning believes that 2014 promised to be a close race. Now, he says, "I think the Republicans will have a greater chance at holding the seat with someone else."
Probably by running someone more in the mold of Bob Dole.
Michael Smerconish can
be heard from 9 a.m. to
noon on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel 124.