The Michele Bachmann sideshow is hurting the GOP

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Michele Bachmann walks on stage before speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference on March 16.
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Michele Bachmann walks on stage before speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference on March 16.

The Minnesota lawmaker alienates independents, moderates, and young voters — and she's not going anywhere

Attention, GOP: Your rebranding attempts are being undercut by a segment of your party getting big headlines and lots of airtime — a segment symbolized by the Minnesota quote-machine, Rep. Michele Bachmann. Due to a series of gaffes, she is again on the receiving end of criticism, including from Fox News powerhouse Bill O'Reilly. The congresswoman is also, as reported by The Daily Beast's John Avlon, "embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign — including an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties." It's almost as if Bachmann were a Democratic mole embedded in the Republican Party with the purpose of chasing away a wide range of voters.

Her latest sound-bite-producing comment, this time on ObamaCare, begged for audio accompaniment of the Twilight Zone theme. Try to imagine it: "Let's repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let's not do that. Let's love people. Let's care about people. Let's repeal it now while we can."

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While some Republicans have distanced themselves from Bachmann — or fled altogether, as Republican campaign consultant Ed Rollins did from her ill-fated presidential campaign last year — she is still popular with GOPers who condone the paranoia-tinged political rhetoric that alienates independents, centrists, moderates, and many young people. Such rhetoric is in full display in too-out-there-for-Fox Glenn Beck's theory that the real reason Bachmann is being investigated is because a faction of "radical Islam" embedded in the U.S. government is out to get her. 

But, no, it's not what "they" are doing to Bachmann but, once again, what Bachmann is doing to herself.

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Her name has repeatedly been splashed in headlines because of her sensationalist statements that destroy her credibility. Many pundits considered her a conservative extremist when she entered the 2012 presidential race, yet (with Rollins' help) she eventually took the lead. But when it came time to broaden her appeal, she wasn't able to ditch the primary-speak to appeal to anyone but the Tea Party and other Republicans who are fond of the talk-show circuit. Thus, the majority of Republican primary voters decided she was not a viable national candidate.

"Bachmann committed no major gaffe to lose that lead, no revelation of old affairs, like Herman Cain, or inability to debate well, like Rick Perry," says Joel Mathis at the Philly Post. "Instead, what seemed to put off GOP supporters was the same thing that's always alarmed the rest of us about Michele Bachmann: She seemed just a little crazy."

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Aaron Astor, an associate professor of history at Maryville College, has seen a major shift in how generations communicate — which does not bode well for Bachmann or the Tea Party-flavored Republican Party.

"People under the age of 40 thrive on irony," he told me. "That's why Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show are so popular. The Fox News/talk show world is decidedly un-ironic. Once upon a time it had a certain mocking humor and edge to it — mostly in the late 1980s when conservative comedy was still somewhat edgy. But Hannity is pure smarm and has zero appeal to younger people, regardless of ideology. Preachy, soap-box hollering is the stuff of baby boomer politics."

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Andrew Sullivan also once asserted that "the bitter, brutal tone of American politics comes from... the baby boomers. The divide is still — amazingly — between those who fought in Vietnam and those who didn't, and between those who fought and dissented and those who fought but never dissented at all."

Many baby boomer media figures and politicos remain hopelessly mired in those 1960s and 1970s resentments. And Bachmann, born in 1956, is most decidedly a baby boomer — and perhaps even a caricature of one. She speaks in apocalyptic terms about President Obama and Democrats. She has never met an inaccuracy or exaggeration she didn't like in her thirst to negatively define the other side. (Fact-checkers following her speeches may soon have to seek workmen's compensation.) Even her way of speaking seems to resemble the late Gilda Radner playing Rosanne Rosannadanna on Saturday Night Live.

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As The Daily Beast's Avlon sees it, the ethics investigation "adds an additional indignity to the self-inflicted disasters of her political career. Demagoguery eventually brings dishonor. And her most passionate supporters ought to consider what it means when the people who know Bachmann best respect her the least."

Does all this mean Bachmann won't get re-elected? No it doesn't. The way her district is set up, she has nothing to worry about. Bachmann will likely be around for a while, maybe even for another doomed presidential bid. She'll get the sound bites and make headlines. Voters that the GOP needs will continue to see her and be reminded of the party's lack of inclusiveness. And many will decide to steer clear of the GOP — and its off-putting sideshow.

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