[Vision2020] Great Things Come In Small Packages
deco at moscow.com
Fri Sep 16 11:46:14 PDT 2011
September 15, 2011
With Stakes for Bachmann Higher Now, Her Words Get in the Way
By TRIP GABRIEL
In the pugilism of this week's Republican presidential debate, Representative Michele Bachmann seemed to have landed a clean blow against Gov. Rick Perry over an order he issued requiring Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus.
But then in follow-up interviews, Mrs. Bachmann suggested the vaccine was linked to "mental retardation."
As experts quickly pointed out, there is no evidence whatsoever linking the vaccine to mental retardation - and Mrs. Bachmann ended up shifting the focus off Mr. Perry and on to her long-running penchant for exaggeration.
It is a pattern her current and former aides know well - her tendency to let her passion for an issue overwhelm a sober look at the facts, resulting in indefensible remarks that, in a presidential primary race, are raising questions about her judgment and maturity.
"She made a mistake," said Ed Rollins, Mrs. Bachmann's former campaign manager and still a senior adviser, on Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC.
"Mrs. Bachmann's an emotional person who basically has great feeling for people," he added. "Obviously she'd have been better if she had stayed on the issue."
People close to the campaign echoed Mr. Rollins. They spoke of their frustration that Mrs. Bachmann, who entered the race with a reputation for making unsupportable statements on cable television, has not found the discipline to win credibility with major Republican donors and influential referees in the conservative news media.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, for one, accused her of "vaccine demagoguery."
Jim Dyke, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee unaffiliated with any candidate, said: "This is the nail in the coffin in her campaign. Because you can be a cable television darling by saying provocative things, but you can't be president of the United States."
Supporters pushed back, arguing that Mrs. Bachmann's appeal has never been to the party establishment.
"Maybe she's a little passionate, but she's not scripted," said Kent Sorenson, an Iowa state senator who is chairman of her campaign there. "She's real. I think people are fed up with these politicians who are so scripted that you don't know who they are."
People close to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mrs. Bachmann is often influenced by the last person she speaks with on an issue rather than maintaining discipline in communicating a message.
She made the link between the vaccine and mental illness after meeting a tearful woman following Monday night's debate, she said. The woman said her daughter had developed mental retardation after being vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
Mrs. Bachmann repeated the account Monday night on Fox News and the next morning on NBC's "Today," warning that Mr. Perry's executive order in Texas would have forced young girls to receive "an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug."
Mr. Perry's edict, in February 2007, was never enforced because the Texas Legislature blocked it. He said during the debate that he had made the wrong decision. It may haunt him with conservative voters who resent government's role in personal health decisions.
But the issue is also likely to shadow Mrs. Bachmann, reminding voters of a string of questionable utterances before and since she announced her presidential candidacy.
Some are simple flubs, such as confusing the anniversary of Elvis Presley's birth with his death, and the Soviet Union with Russia, as she did on the campaign trail last month in South Carolina.
"When you speak six times a day, slip-ups can occur," Mrs. Bachmann said then, in response to a reporter's question about the gaffes. And referring to voters, her spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, noted that "there has been one contest to date in this race - the Iowa straw poll - and Michele won that."
In some cases, campaign insiders said, Mrs. Bachmann's staff was to blame for feeding her misinformation - such as that New Hampshire, rather than Massachusetts, was the site of "the shot heard round the world" that began the American Revolution, which she told a crowd in Manchester, N.H., in March.
The flubs echo around the blogosphere and water coolers for a day. But they are different from more serious political assertions that she is prone to utter with conviction, only to have them turn out to be baseless.
Last year on national television she accused President Obama of planning a trip to India that would cost taxpayers "$200 million a day" and include more than 870 "five-star hotel rooms." Her source was apparently an unconfirmed report in an Indian newspaper citing an anonymous official, which the White House said had "no basis in reality."
"She's a very impulsive, driven person," said Ron Carey, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota who served as Mrs. Bachmann's chief of staff in the House before leaving last year. He went on to endorse her rival Minnesotan for the presidential nomination, Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out last month.
Before this week's debate, determined to slow the momentum of Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachmann's advisers prepared a line of attack against his executive order to require vaccinations against HPV for sixth-grade girls.
Her aides suggested she echo and respond to former Gov. Mitt Romney's line from a previous debate, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California, that Mr. Perry deserved a "mulligan" on the order, a do-over.
Mrs. Bachmann executed perfectly. "Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan," Mrs. Bachmann said on Monday night. "They don't get a do-over."
It is unclear whether she will get one now.
Wayne A. Fox
wayne.a.fox at gmail.com
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