When I first met Michele Bachmann (I think it was 2004 or ’05), she was a sharp state senator from Minnesota who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. In those days, she wasn’t known for the foot-in-mouth outbreak that would later, unfortunately, characterize her career, culminating in an embarrassingly uninformed, nationally televised lecture on vaccinations at a Republican presidential primary debate.
Set aside for a moment the straw that probably broke this camel’s back – the FBI investigation of Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign. Conservatives are naturally sympathetic toward people who talk the talk as well as Bachmann does, and that’s easy to understand. I believe she’s sincere in her political beliefs, most of which I share. I admire her for serving as a foster mother. Her time in office was not without accomplishment (I consider all her “no” votes in 2007-2010 to be worthy all on their own, but also Google her name along with “innocent spouse relief” and “IRS”). Her social conservatism was also a good match for her central Minnesota district.
But conservatives can’t be naive here. I’ve noticed some on the Internet lamenting that her seat will now surely be lost to the Democrats (highly doubtful), and others are even convinced that she’s the victim of some kind of GOP leadership conspiracy. Some have suggested that her problems stemmed from a lack of financial help from the national Republican Party.
All of this is untrue. If anything, Bachmann’s exit means that the conservative movement is about to be better-funded, because conservative small-donors won’t be spending over $10 million to re-elect her to a completely safe House seat every two years. Campaign money is a limited resource, and Michele Bachmann may hold a lifetime record for wasting it.
A few quick facts and figures on Bachmann:
- In 2012, she raised $14 million for her House race, nearly all of it from small individual conservative donors. That’s nearly ten times what the average winning House candidate raised.
- Bachmann spent $12 million of that to win re-election (just barely) to a completely safe House seat that Mitt Romney was in the process of carrying by 15 points. Think about that: She outspent her opponent six-to-one and still won by only 1.2 percentage points in a 15-point Romney district. (Update: It’s also worth noting that neither the DCCC nor the DNC reported spending a dime against her in 2012.)
- This was not the first time Bachmann has spent big money on a seat that shouldn’t be competitive. In 2010, she raised $13.6 million and spent $11.7 million to keep the seat (also safe then at McCain +9), winning with 52.5 percent over a fractured field.
- Aside from John Boehner (who gave away most of the money he raised to the NRCC and other candidates) and Allen West (who at least was running in a competitive seat), Bachmann raised and spent more money than any other candidate for the House in 2012. (That’s not counting the $9 million she raised for her presidential bid.) She was also the record-holder in 2010.
- Bachmann has never received more than 53 percent of the vote, despite having ample resources for party-building and a very Republican district. Eighty-six percent of her campaign donations in 2012 came from out-of-state — a sharp contrast to other House conservatives who might come to mind, such as Steve King, Tom Price, Tim Huelskamp, or Steve Scalise, who all take most or nearly all of their money from local sources.
- Bachmann’s leadership PAC, MICHELE PAC, raised $1.4 million in 2012, above and beyond her campaign money. It cut $113,500 in checks for other Republicans. Of 417 leadership PACs listed by Opensecrets, hers was 393rd in terms of the percentage of money distributed to candidates (10 percent) in 2012. (That doesn’t count contributions to her state party or the NRCC, but those contributions are usually expected of members of Congress.)
So if you’re a true conservative, do you want more Michele Bachmanns in the House? What you probably want are more people who share your principles but who won’t subject them to ridicule; who won’t make their re-election races needlessly expensive; and who can hold down a safe congressional seat easily so that they’re not competing for money that could go to conservatives running for shakier seats.