Behind The Collapse Of The Bachmann Campaign

NRO’s Robert Costa is out with an interesting and detailed look at what’s gone wrong with the Michele Bachmann campaign over the past two months. Most interesting is the rather obvious conflict between Bachmann’s professional advisers, and her inner circle:

By that August afternoon, when Bachmann finally beat Paul in Ames (albeit by a slim margin), it was supposed to be, as she said, the start of something big. Yet as the crowds rallied at ISU, internally, the campaign was in disarray, with nonstop infighting. Bachmann’s message, her policy positions, early-state plans, media strategy — everything became a quarrel. The senior-staff rift over Ames, which started as a fracture, widened into a gulf, with Polyansky and his on-the-ground political team operating separately from Bachmann’s on-the-bus sphere.

Rollins, still the campaign manager, was torn: He was reluctant to fire senior staff and upset Bachmann, but knew the campaign was collapsing. By late August, the campaign staff was far from a cohesive unit, multiple sources say. Publicly, Bachmann was coasting, a rising candidate, but inside, it was a disaster — a nonstop battle between the “bus crew” and her paid consultants. Rollins grew increasingly exasperated with Bachmann’s decisions; the others told the congresswoman not to sweat the former Reagan strategist’s off-site demands.

That group on the bus — advance man Keith Nahigian; press secretary Alice Stewart; her policy guru, Brett O’Donnell, the former debate coach at Liberty University; and other staffers — began to hold greater sway over every detail, from debate prep to messaging. Even on the media front, where Rollins had built valuable relationships, he was overruled. “What people don’t understand is that this was festering all summer,” says one source. “Rollins’s break began before Ames. The group never clicked; disagreements were constant.”

Rollins, for example, wanted Bachmann to sit down with 60 Minutes and a variety of mainstream media commentators and programs. Her Ames win, he told her, was an opportunity to expand beyond her conservative comfort zones, a chance to make her case beyond the usual GOP media circuit. She resisted, according to sources familiar with the situation. Her response was that conservatives watched On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren and Hannity, so that was where she should be, giving talk-radio interviews in between Fox News hits.

Internal fights, one Bachmann source says, are one thing, but when the candidate didn’t get the Ames bump she expected, anxiety set in — and she let it show. She was “spooked,’ he says, by Gov. Rick Perry’s mid-August entry into the race. “She did lose her confidence for a few weeks,” he says. “She spent a lot of time thinking about Perry’s role in the race, where he fit, and how she should react. I don’t think she ever thought he’d rise so quickly. That surprised all of us.”

Indeed, a day after winning the straw poll, both Bachmann and the Texas governor appeared in Waterloo, speaking to Black Hawk County Republicans at the Electric Park Ballroom, a dusty dance hall. To Rollins’s chagrin, she would not get off of her bus at the event until Perry was finished speaking. Rollins wanted her to go in, embrace Perry, and — with a grin — welcome him, while reminding him that he was late to the party. Bachmann wanted none of it. Instead, she stayed on her bus as Perry ate dinner with local Republicans and gave an upbeat speech.

Only after the lights were adjusted and the music was blaring did she enter the venue. Reporters ate up the drama, wondering aloud on the morning talk shows and in columns whether Bachmann had overplayed her hometown hand. Bachmann’s associates, for the most part, admit that this was a misplayed moment. Other Bachmann advisers who still work for the campaign contest this version of events. “It was a media-created story, nothing more,” says one.

And yet it set the tone for the next several weeks. Even potentially sympathetic bloggers like Ed Morrissey were baffled by the Waterloo incident:

In contrast, Bachmann’s reception seemed less enthusiastic.  The lighting had to be changed before Bachmann spoke, apparently at the campaign’s insistence, which delayed her entrance and interfered with the timing of her entrance announcement.  But more puzzlingly, Bachmann didn’t arrive to mix with the crowd before the event started, waiting until she was scheduled to speak to enter the Electric Ballroom.  Perry arrived early and greeted every table, the kind of retail politics that Iowa usually rewards — and that Iowans expect.  Whether the attendees were off-put by the snub or not, Bachmann received less enthusiastic response than Perry did for his speech. I should note that Bachmann actually gave a better delivery of what was essentially the same speech she did in Ames, with much better use of dynamics and projection that fit the more intimate environment.

Coming as that does in her home town, it poses the question whether Perry will steal her thunder here in Iowa as well as other states in which she will not have the natural advantages she does here.  For one evening, Bachmann came in second.

That’s exactly what happened, of course. Perhaps it was inevitable, certainly once Rick Perry entered the race, that the appeal of Michele Bachmann as the “not Romney” diminished significantly. Then, when she shot herself in the foot during last month’s debates, any hope that she’d be able to revive her campaign was pretty much dead.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Most interesting is the rather obvious conflict between Palin’s professional advisers, and her inner circle”

    Paging Dr. Freud.

  2. Jay Tea says:

    The time recently Doug called “courtiers” “courtesans” was funnier, but this one is seriously Freudian. Makes all the times I mixed up Iran and Iraq look like NOTHING.


  3. legion says:

    So, she’s a pampered diva who demands everything on her own terms or not at all? I’m shocked. I’m also having trouble distinguishing her from any of the other second-tier primary candidates who are floundering back in the pack & seem to exhibit the same characteristics. Perhaps diva-ness and egomania are not actually substitutes for strength of character after all…

  4. legion says:

    @Jay Tea: In Doug’s defense, Palin & Bachmann are rapidly becoming interchangeable in the public persona department. I still don’t think Bachmann’s as flat-out stupid as Palin, but definitely crazier…

  5. Yes guys, you got me on that one.

  6. Jay Tea says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Now if you’ll just go back to your “Death Panels” piece and fix “courtesans…”