Is she really "over"--as some commenters have suggested to me lately? Is she really spent as a national force, in the aftermath of this year's election?
There's a huge budget battle topping the headlines hourly, right now. That topic is classic Bachmann meat-and-potatoes--tax hikes, big government spending, welfare state entitlements, the national debt and deficit, the Constitution and the proper role of government...
But she's not chiming in this time; not adding her latest loony lies, smears, and conspiracy theories to the headlines.
Does her conspicuous absence that mean that she's "over?" Has the GOP establishment finally figured out how to shut her up? Does her post-election invisibility mean that the Christian Right and conservative media dropped her? (To be clear: if they have dropped her, that's the end of Michele Bachmann as a force in national politics.)
Without the regular headlines and the conservative broadcasting appearances, Bachmann's done as a national demagogue and as a national political force. No national media presence means no ability to promote sign off on right wing nut candidacies around the country. And no media presence means no national fan base, and thus an end to the now-legendary money stream that comes from that national fan base.
Media presence makes or breaks Bachmann. Bachmann and her mentors have known that all along, that's why they spent nine years building that media presence for her.
Since 2007 she's rarely been out of the headlines, using the news to float the crazy stuff. Reacting to that, some liberals and progressives insisted that she was too nutty and too extreme to become a national player in American politics.
They were wrong. Her national following and influence grew (concurrently with the rise of the tea party.) And more "Bachmann-like" candidates (Christian Right and tea party types) began to enter into national, state, and local office.
Powered by the crazy right wing paranoids who love Michele Bachmann: the GOP was able to reverse their post-Bush/Cheney political decay and take back the US Congress from Democrats in 2010. And they still retain the House; some crackpot Bachmann types were defeated--but many survive and keep the party anchored in the extreme right.
But in the three weeks following the 2012 elections...comparative silence and invisibility, for one of their chief heroes and inspirations.
I've since suggested a reason for Bachmann's low media profile. Despite her services to the conservative movment, Bachmann's been passed over for leadership posts and influential committee assignments because the senior GOP distrusts her. She regularly used her national media spotlight to suggest that they're compromising weenies, compared to her.
So I speculated that Bachmann's keeping quiet to show the Washington GOP that she can keep quiet, function as a GOP team player--and thus can be trusted with a seat on a key policy making committee; one that controls House legislation, or taxes and budget.
But I could be wrong about that. Maybe she really is "over."
Prior to this year's election the Washington GOP (Speaker Boehner and company) has never had the power to "turn off" her career. They can do that to most junior legislators, via denunciation and killing off measures that benefit their districts. The establishment GOP couldn't deal Bachmann out that way: her media spotlight meant that she wasn't dependent on successful legislation for survival or funding. And an attempt to marginalize her would have earned the GOP establishment the wrath of the Christian Right.
In the wake of election results, establishment Republicans in the Nixon/Rockefeller/Dole tradition are riding high in the party for the first time in a long time. The loss of the White House and Republican seats is generally attributed to GOP domination by "the crazies," the extreme right. The crazies brought the GOP back into power in Congress in 2010, but now their agenda is costing the GOP seats and control of government. And conventional wisdom after the election says that the GOP will continue shrinking so long as the party has to keep kow-towing to the will of the crazies.
What better way to end that, than for the GOP leadership to keep the chief crazy out of the media during the "fiscal cliff" battle--and afterwards?
That's one possible explanation for Bachmann's current quietude. But it's a flawed explanation. It's unlikely that Bachmann would follow an order to "shut up" if it came from the GOP leadership alone.
She would follow an order to "shut up" if it came from the leaders of the Christian Right. They've always had the power to end Bachmann's national career. Maybe they've decided to "turn her off"--at least for now--after concluding that her high-profile extremism (and negative press) no longer serves their interests.
The Christian Right isn't "done." They control too many seats and influence too many GOP primary contests. Regional control of elections is power; their candidates continue to survive and win regionally. The glory days of "making George W. Bush president" are gone, but they won't leave American politics--there's simply too much money and power at stake.
But maybe Christian Right leaders have decided that this particular protege has accumulated too much baggage. Maybe they'll decide that that they can do better with "new faces"--proteges without so much negative media baggage, able to present a broader,re-tooled message.
That's three possible explanations for her current low profile in the media. Shutting up because she's angling for a more powerful committee assignment; shutting up because the leadership has finally figured out how to make her shut up; shutting up because the Christian Right leaders told her to.
Bachmann entered this year's race with an extraordinary national fundraising advantage; as a three-term Republican incumbent running in the most conservative district in Minnesota. Even so, she barely survived an election in a plus-seven Republican district--and had to raise and spend nearly 20 million to do so. She was even compelled to back off the tea party stuff and campaign as a "bi-partisan" politician (a laughable pose for Bachmann.)
She's weak. And she's through as a national player if she isn't allowed to re-enter the media spotlight.
But how will we know if Bachmann's really "over," as a national political figure?
She'll tell us. If she comes back into the headlines with another crazy smear, or if she returns to regular appearances on Fox and conservative broadcasting, introduced again as "a conservative to be admired:" she's not over.
But if she continues to lay low in the media--she is so over.