Although the Iowa caucuses delivered a major setback to three of the most socially conservative GOP candidates — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich — only Bachmann read the tea leaves and decided to get out of the presidential race altogether.
What happened to her candidacy, and what — if any — impact will her departure have on the nomination process?
Michele Bachmann, an Iowa native, announced her presidential campaign in her hometown of Waterloo. She made the case that she was a favorite of the Tea Party and would work to repeal Obama’s health care legislation and cut federal spending. While she was the frontrunner in Iowa for most of the summer and won the Ames straw poll in August, her star fell dramatically throughout the fall, and she ended her bid for president after getting a mere 5% of the votes in Iowa.
Bachmann was unable to maintain momentum after securing the Ames straw poll. Unfortunately for her, that was the same day Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas, chose to enter the race. Perry was, at the time, considered one of the strongest possible Republican contenders. He is the governor of a large state with an impressive jobs record and a darling of many evangelical voters.
While Perry skyrocketed in the polls after he first announced his candidacy, surpassing Romney for a while, his dismal debate performances quickly deflated his supporters. Despite his floundering answers during the debates and his infamous brain freeze over which federal agencies he would eliminate, Perry has proved remarkably adept at continuing to raise money, if not his standing in the polls. Michele Bachmann simply does not have such deep pockets to continue her quest for the White House.
Bachmann entered the race for the Republican nomination with two main agenda items: repealing Obama’s health care legislation and cutting the deficit.
Health care did not prove to be one of the top concerns of Iowa voters: It was the “most important issue” for only 4% of caucus-goers. The economy and the budget deficit were top of mind for most voters Tuesday, and Bachmann received a modicum of support on those issues. Mitt Romney won a plurality of voters who cared most about the economy, while Ron Paul carried the group that cared most about the deficit.
Bachmann proudly voted against raising the debt ceiling last summer, but without a substantive plan to actually cut spending (and rather risk defaulting on our national debt), she was not able to convince voters that she would do the best job with America’s checkbook.
Michele Bachmann’s 5% showing in Iowa is a perfect reflection of her national standing: She has polled between 4% and 6% since October. So what will happen to her small group of supporters? Are they mainly budget cutters who will jump onto the Ron Paul train, or are they mainly social voters who will align themselves with Santorum, Perry or Gingrich? My guess is that they will disperse fairly evenly among the non-Romneys and not make much of an impact at all.
The bigger question is whether Bachmann will endorse another candidate and spend her time and money campaigning on his behalf. It is almost impossible to imagine that she will support Mitt Romney anytime soon, as she denounced his leading role in Massachusetts’ health care reform and does not consider him to be a real conservative in any sense.
The more likely scenario is that she will join in the barrage of attacks on Romney in the next couple of weeks, support Rick Santorum as he experiences the “vetting” process of a now-major candidate, and eventually succumb to the realty that Romney — not her or one of her like-minded conservatives — is the GOP’s best chance to make Obama a one-term president.