Amid fiscal cliff debate, Bachmann keeps low profile

Rep. Michele Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann attends a roundtable event at Rasmussen College, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Blaine, Minn. Little has been heard from Bachmann since the election six weeks ago.
AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

Rep. Michele Bachmann has built her political career by being outspoken. It has helped her raise tens of millions of dollars and go from obscure back bencher to presidential candidate in three terms.

In the six weeks since the election, Congress has been wrapped up with the series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes known as the fiscal cliff, Bachmann has gone almost completely silent.

She squeaked back into office last month with a margin of 1 percent in Minnesota's most Republican congressional district, and ever since has not been on Fox News or the Sunday talk shows.

Bachmann gave one interview recently to "Understanding the Times," a Maple Grove, Minn.-based Christian radio show that specializes in biblical end of the world prophecies. On the show, Bachmann claimed a cabal of Muslim countries was working with the Obama administration to squash free speech rights around the world.

Bachmann has limited her comments on the fiscal cliff to a few tweets and a handful of postings on her Facebook page.

Bachmann's slim victory last month might have shown her that being loud can be counterproductive, said congressional scholar Norm Ornstein.

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"The fact that Bachmann nearly lost her seat says something about the high-profile confrontational style that she has perfected," Ornstein said.

Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks during The Family Research Council Action Values Voter Summit on Sept. 14, 2012 at a hotel in Washington, DC. Since squeaking back into office in November by a margin of 1 percent in Minnesota's most Republican congressional district, Bachmann has mostly gone quiet.

That fiercely partisan style, along with an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination and a history of making sometimes untrue and misleading comments appears to have hurt her reputation outside of the heavily Republican 6th District she represents.

Bachmann has been mentioned as a possible U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 against Al Franken. On paper, she makes sense as a candidate, said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

"She's well known, she can raise the money, she passes all the conservative litmus tests," Duffy said.

But a series of opinion polls over the past year show Bachmann with poor statewide favorability ratings which Duffy said make a run for higher office unlikely.

"She would struggle, I believe," Duffy said.

It isn't just Bachmann who has gone quiet. Many other tea party members of Congress aligned with her have also toned down their voices after an election that saw some of the movement's most vocal members defeated and their arch-enemy, President Barack Obama, re-elected by a comfortable margin.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently took away plum committee assignments from several outspoken tea party members, but Bachmann has kept her assignments for now.

Federal budget expert Stan Collender said members like Bachmann may also realize they could weaken Boehner's negotiating position with Obama on the fiscal cliff if they criticize the Speaker too loudly. "Their best attempt now to influence policy is to do it from behind the scenes, and that's what I think is going on here," Collender said.

However, Collender does not think Bachmann or the tea partiers will stay quiet for long.

"It's hard to imagine that this many people so committed to lower government spending and lower taxes could remain silent when Congress might be going in the opposite direction," Collender said. Jennifer Niska, who chairs the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, said she and party members there are not worried about Bachmann's absence from the current fiscal cliff debate.

"I think that she does a good job of figuring out when to talk about things and when not to, and I think she will when it's time," Niska said.

She said Bachmann's Minnesota supporters trust her judgment and plan to keep supporting her.