On Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), founder of the Tea Party Caucus, dropped her long-shot bid for the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference. Her decision leaves Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, as the presumptive favorite for the No. 4 leadership spot.
“From what I hear, she stepped down on her own, once she realized that the numbers weren’t there as she made calls,” says one House GOP staffer familiar with the situation. A senior House aide says that’s probably right: “There are 240-plus members of the new House GOP, and according to her own staff, she secured the votes of five of them.”
Even though Bachmann took to the phones, and campaigned hard, another House GOP aide tells us that the Minnesota Republican never generated momentum in the caucus. “She is well known, but there was no real movement toward her. She is not everyone’s favorite. There were some concerns about how she’d handle the position, and whether she’d be focused on the actual conference committee, or on getting onto television.”
Another aide confides that Hensarling’s big-name endorsements — Rep. Paul Ryan, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, blogger Erick Erickson, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, among others — made the decision easy for conservative members.
Still, those in Bachmann’s orbit argue that she was running to give the Tea Party voice, not to woo cable bookers.
One of Bachmann’s key political allies, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, tells NRO that Bachmann’s decision to nix her leadership bid was far from a show of defeat. “She has not lost anything; she just did not gain,” King says. “She is brilliant woman with great political instincts, as well as a nationally-recognized face and voice. She may have put a marker down to be the next chair of the conference.”
King notes that Bachmann’s friends in the House remain miffed about how House GOP leadership handled the conference race following Rep. Mike Pence’s decision to step down from the position on Nov. 3, the day after Republicans were swept into the majority.
“Two minutes after Pence’s ‘dear colleague’ letter went out, Jeb Hensarling’s letter went out,” King sighs. “Then the endorsements came from Cantor and Pence, all within that first hour.”
For Team Bachmann, the impact was immediate: “If you don’t have it loaded up front, it’s really hard,” King says.
Nevertheless, they plowed ahead: Bachmann hurriedly began to call incoming freshman, though she struggled at times to find contact information. King, for his part, tried to rally Republican incumbents to the cause.
“Many [incumbents] told me that they wished they knew about Michele running,” King says. “Some said they would have supported her had they known. But Jeb Hensarling had gotten there first, and there were simply not enough [members] left to turn this race around.”
“This is not a criticism of Jeb, he is a good man, but anybody that has got themselves into a position to run that kind of campaign probably has the full and complete approval of everybody up the line in leadership,” King observes, making it “less likely that [Hensarling] will be as outspoken a person as Michele, once he gets inside of the leadership team.”
“The leadership team now appears to be all but set,” King says. “Everyone seems to have the apparent approval of the speaker-to-be. It’s more like an appointed cabinet than an elected leadership team.”
For now, “I think [Bachmann] will retool herself,” King predicts. “I don’t know what shape it will take, but I’d like to think that the Tea Party Caucus will be an essential vehicle for her to use. Somebody has got to be the conscience of the conference.”