Michele Bachmann falls from grace

From top GOP contender to bottom of the barrel

If the plan was to use her early victories as momentum to catapult into the favor of mainstream conservatives, she failed miserably. The magic wore off, and Bachmann never proved she could win over the rest of the country.

"She never addressed the electability factor, which was always the problem," says Schultz. "She never made the case that she's electable."

God's Wrath

There's nothing like a natural disaster to make a candidate look presidential. In late August, shortly after the first signs that her early success was wavering, Bachmann opted for the bold strategy of trying to ride the coattails of Hurricane Irene, which had hit the East Coast the prior week.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians," Bachmann told a crowd in Sarasota, Florida, perhaps the worst place in America to make light of a hurricane. "We've had an earthquake, we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now."

The implication was that the Lord was destroying Americans' homes up and down the East Coast because he was pissed about healthcare reform and the stimulus package. Bachmann's campaign later brushed off the quip as a joke, but it was at best ill-timed, coming just six months after the Japanese earthquakes that had left more than 15,000 dead.

"It shows sort of the twisted thinking that goes on in her mind," says Karl Bremer, co-author of the book The Madness of Michele Bachmann. "To me, it's like Pat Robertson blaming Katrina on the gay pride parade that weekend."

Even if the statement was meant in jest, it was a window into Bachmann's fundamentalist Christian views. On the national stage, these radical comments are a turnoff for voters who already think she's too extreme for mainstream politics, says Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

"There are the misstatements and the controversial statements, and then there are the controversial misstatements," says Pearson. "Comments that give potential supporters and donors pause, like, 'How would this go over in a general election?'"

Fallen Angels

With Bachmann foundering, her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, decided it was time to cut ties. A former Reagan advisor, Rollins was Bachmann's claim to legitimacy with the insider Washington crowd, so losing him signaled serious turmoil within the campaign.

"It showed that there was something intrinsically wrong within the campaign itself," says Lynda Waddington, former editor of the Iowa Independent. "That's not a death knell, but it seems like the Bachmann campaign has had so many problems, they've had this critical mass of misfortune."

This wasn't a new problem for Bachmann. Over the course of her career as a state representative and congresswoman, she's been notorious for losing key staff members.

"There's a long history of Bachmann going through staff at breakneck speed," says David Dayen, blogger for political website Fire Dog Lake.

Aside from Rollins, Bachmann lost adivsors Andy Parrish and Ed Goeas, Chief of Staff Ron Carey, and several others. Many of them had harsh words for the campaign on their way out the door, but none hurt quite as bad as Rollins's blistering critique.

In an interview with ABC News, Rollins said Bachmann was "out of money and ideas," and already had no chance of winning the Iowa caucus.

"She's still saying the same things she said in the first the debate," pronounced Rollins. "There's no substance. She says, 'I'm going to repeal Obamacare.' But she's been saying that from day one. I told her: 'That's your Tea Party speech; now you have to say what you're going to do next.'"

Because so many people saw Rollins as legitimizing Bachmann, his betrayal affirmed everything political insiders had suspected about Michele.

Says Steve Smith, political science professor at Washington University: "I don't think there is a Republican activist or insider in the country who didn't interpret that as the end of her effective presidential campaign."

Denied Her Light

On September 7, more than 5.4 million people tuned into MSNBC to watch the GOP debate, making it the most-viewed contest of the campaign trail thus far.

For Bachmann, it was the perfect opportunity to climb back into the good graces of voters. Instead, she was reduced to a rubber-necking bystander, watching the Perry vs. Romney fight from her podium.

Few headlines even mentioned Bachmann's name the next day. The ones that did reference her read like obituaries.

"Bachmann's biggest mistake has been her fairly poor debate performances," says Hiram College's Jason Johnson. "Her inability to capitalize on her success with strong debate performances really hurt her. Really, really hurt her overall. And then we've seen this typhoon of frontrunners appear after her over and over and over again."

The sputtering quickly became a vicious cycle. The debates are structured to give the most likely candidates a chance to field the most questions, so the further she fell, the less camera time she was afforded.

"They've gone right to frontrunners Romney and Perry and Gingrich," says Al Eisele, founder and former editor of the Hill. "I think she's been put in a little bit of a disadvantage, a little on the defensive, and been forced to be a little more confrontational."

Heal Thyself

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