Just days after Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her presidential candidacy, she finds herself on the defensive and under attack from virtually every quarter in the media.
Small stumbles are being amplified across the media landscape, and Bachmann finds herself compared with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at every turn.
Even the UK Daily Mail on Tuesday reported Bachmann “is already following in Mrs. Palin’s footsteps of making unfortunate public gaffes after pulling a clanger in a television interview.”
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Bachmann told supporters during a campaign stop in South Carolina Wednesday: “They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight, and I’m not going to give it to 'em. …We’re going to stick together, and we’re going to see this thing through.”
The broadsides have come from the right as well as the left. On Sunday, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Rep. Bachmann, a former federal tax attorney, if she should be considered “a flake.” Bachmann said she found the question offensive, and Wallace later apologized.
Among the commentators coming to Bachmann’s defense: former Democratic consultant and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen. CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked Rosen if Bachmann is being held to a different standard because she is a woman.
“The answer obviously is yes,” Rosen replied. “I don’t think Chris Wallace would have asked a man if he was a flake. And I think that the fact that she’s constantly compared to Sarah Palin, as opposed to the other men in the race, clearly would demonstrate that.”
Bachmann stated this week that the late screen icon John Wayne was born in Waterloo, Iowa. In fact, the actor’s parents met in Waterloo, Iowa, but Wayne himself was born about 150 miles southwest in Winterset, Iowa.
“People can make mistakes and I wish I could be perfect every time I say something,” Bachmann said on CNN Tuesday morning. “But I can’t.”
Conservatives have been warning for months that even the slightest misstep by Bachmann, who has a law degree from Oral Roberts University and a post-graduate degree from William & Mary, would provoke widespread attacks on her credibility.
“They have done this campaign after campaign, candidate after candidate,” Ohio GOP Senate candidate Ken Blackwell told Newsmax Magazine, part of an in-depth cover story on Bachmann in the magazine’s July edition. “So I think that you will see a well-orchestrated campaign from the left to define and destroy Michele Bachmann.”
Sal Russo, Tea Party Express founder, told Newsmax in that same report: “I think it terrorizes the left when a conservative can articulate their message in a hopeful, positive, and understandable way … As much as Reagan was bashed unmercifully, I think it may even be worse for attractive conservative women.
“The left thinks they should be liberals, not conservatives, so they are angry at them for defying the stereotype,” Russo said. “Black conservatives face the same thing.”
Some observers see the kneejerk media comparison of Bachmann and Palin as an effort to drive up Bachmann’s negatives, especially among all-important swing voters.
But others believe the criticism of Bachmann is so over-the-top that it could help her, at least with the GOP base.
“It’s mainly a superficial contrast … they are very different, but the media like simplicity, they like superficialities,” says Rich Noyes, research director of the conservative Media Research Center watchdog organization.
“The media have already done a job in attacking Sarah Palin, in minimizing Sarah Palin. If they can just transfer that identity over to Michele Bachmann, it might actually cause her some problems with independents who won’t give her a fresh look, won’t look at her as own identity but will accept the media paradigm about her,” he adds.
Unlike Palin, Bachmann has two law degrees and served as a federal tax attorney, before becoming a three-term member of Congress from Minnesota. Recent polls show she is already running nearly dead-even with establishment favorite and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Noyes says the public quickly tires of blatant partisan attacks however. He says the effort to “Palin-ize” Bachmann could backfire politically.
“Palinized sort of has two meanings,” says Noyes. “One, we’ll see a definite disdain from the media elite toward these people. But supporters seem to almost take it as a badge of honor when you’re attacked … you know, [the media] aren’t held in any great esteem themselves.”
Mark McKinnon, the columnist and consultant who directed former President George W. Bush’s political advertising, tells Newsmax that the sharp criticism directed at Bachmann may be an effort to drive a wedge between GOP elites and the Republican rank-and-file in the heartland. But the effort to marginalize Bachmann could backfire, he says.
“The more the candidate is attacked personally, the more deeply entrenched her supporters will become in her defense,” he says. “This is not about crying ‘victim’ as some may charge. It’s righteous indignation.”
The challenge for Bachmann is how she will respond to the lambasting, says McKinnon.
“Reagan laughed off the attacks. ‘W’ ignored them -- to the detriment of his near-term legacy, I think. Palin, at first, responded emotionally. Can Bachmann turn it around, with grace and gravitas? … This a test for her. And it’s not going to get easier.”
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