No one is saying it for quotation yet, but it is increasingly likely that Michele Bachmann will decide not to seek another term in the U.S. House when her seat comes up in 2014.
Lots of Republicans say off the record that they are hearing a growing chorus of rumors that Bachmann may retire. And they are downright expansive about the fact that the party will be thrilled if she does. But absolutely no one to whom I have spoken claims to have heard it from her or from members of her innermost circle.
So if you are willing to take this as informed speculation, here are some of the issues:
Republican Bachmann’s Sixth District should be solid red. In fact, it is the most pro-Republican district in Minnesota. A generic Republican starts with about an 8 percentage point advantage, according to Cook Political Report’s “Partisan Voting Index.” Yet, Bachmann won reelection last year by less than 2 points against political newcomer Jim Graves, and despite the fact that Bachmann outspent Graves by about (hold your breath) 12 to 1. Bachmann spent more than any other House candidate in the country and barely survived.
Plenty of other GOP candidates
A mainstream Republican who didn’t attract the kind of polarized feelings that Bachmann attracts could probably hold the seat easily, indefinitely and at much lower cost (possibly freeing up some of those millions to go to other Republicans). The Sixth District is well-loaded with Republicans who could settle into that seat and hold it indefinitely.
One of the long-time Republican operatives who spoke to me off the record said “a lot of Republicans think Michele Bachmann is the only Republican who could lose that district.”
(In fact, as an aside, if Bachmann did decide to retire from politics, it would likely be the worst possible blow to Graves, who has already announced his intention to challenge her in 2014.)
All of the above consists only of reasons that many Republicans hope Bachmann will retire. None of it necessarily translates into reasons that she would choose to do so.
Of course, after her close shave in 2012, retiring would enable her to leave Washington on her own terms, rather than face the possibility of leaving in defeat (although I am in no way predicting how a Bachmann-Graves rematch would turn out).
No longer a rising star
Bachmann also would be disconnected from reality if she didn’t know that she is no longer considered a rising star in Republican circles. Her presidential campaign flamed out early and left her looking fairly foolish (not that she was the only one). She provided collectors of her famed fact-challenged outbursts with many new items that will follow her into whatever future she chooses.
She was tolerated by the House leadership because of her following within the Tea Party wing, but even that is now in doubt. Her McCarthyesque attack on a highly regarded Muslim woman who worked for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused her to be denounced by several prominent Republicans. Speaker John Boehner described her behavior in that episode as “pretty dangerous” but declined several calls to remove her from the House Intelligence Committee.
But Bachmann has seldom shied from controversy, and often seems to thrive on it. She once famously explained that she decided to run for Congress after hearing a calling from God that she should do so. You never know what to make of people who say things like this, but if you take it seriously (either that God did call her or at least that she believed God did), it is hard to subject speculation about her possible retirement from politics to normal logical analysis.
Bachmann has been suffering from, and takes medication for, severe migraine headaches that at times interfered with her ability to maintain a full campaign schedule. Some have suggested that if she retires, the headaches will be a major reason, others that it will be a convenient excuse.
One possible indication that she is not fully committed to another reelection campaign is the drop in her fundraising in the first quarter of 2013. She raised about $600,000, which is actually a very large number for a typical House member but is only about half of what she raised in the first quarter after her 2010 reelection. And Bachmann spent more than she raised in the most recent quarter. The itemization of those expenditures is not yet public. It may be that the recent spending relates to the several ethics complaints that are currently under official investigation over financial issues from the 2012 cycle.
The ethics issues could, of course, be another incentive to be done with politics. If she does face Graves in a tough reelection race in 2014, the presence of those ethical questions cannot be helpful.
We shall see.