Tea Party at Crossroads After Bachmann

by Emma Dumain, Roll Call
June 1, 2013

With Rep. Michele Bachmann’s announcement that she’ll leave Congress in 2014, colleagues and allies are left to wonder who will take her place as the tea party standard-bearer in the House.

They aren’t sure yet, but they do know one thing: There won’t be another Michele Bachmann.

Credited with energizing the tea party movement in its early stages, and for giving it prominence on Capitol Hill with her founding of the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010, the Minnesota Republican’s charisma, media savvy and talent for incendiary comments vaulted her from backbencher to household name before her ill-fated run for president in 2012.

“She’s a beautiful woman, very articulate and has a really strong voice,” mused one colleague, Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “Here I am, a guy, and I’m in the same room as Michele Bachmann, and her voice carries twice as well as mine does.”

Bachmann embraced her persona as a divisive and polarizing public figure, taking pride in being disliked by members of her own party — and taking extreme policy stands, such as opposing any increase in the debt ceiling, that put her at odds with GOP leadership and the Washington establishment.

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots said Bachmann had to have a “titanium spine” and any future Tea Party Caucus leader would need to have that, too.

Fleming isn’t sure, however, that it’s all that helpful to talk about finding a successor to Bachmann in Bachmann terms, since the movement’s stakeholders are likely to come up short.

“She brought to the table some qualities that are very special and unique,” Fleming said. “If I were to just have to guess right now, is there one member who could easily fit that bill, I would say it would be difficult to come up with that person.”

Tea party leaders of national groups and allies of Bachmann on Capitol Hill tend to be in agreement with Fleming: Bachmann could be the last of her kind.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, they say. Rather, it might just mean that the tea party has evolved into something different, and that Bachmann’s exit, while lamentable, could facilitate that evolution.

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