Did Michele Bachmann set her sights too high, too fast?
The tea party favorite announced on Wednesday that she would not seek reelection, generating a parade of competing theories about why she chose to opt out of a tough 2014 race rather than fight to keep her seat in Congress.
Some pointed to the uphill climb that awaited Bachmann if she chose to stand and fight. Her 2012 challenger Jim Graves, who nearly bested her in a district that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won comfortably, was already angling for a rematch, and national Democrats were sure to pour money into the race to unseat one of their fiercest antagonists.
Compounding an already tough reelection bid were the mounting ethics investigations dealing with Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign. In March, it was reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics would investigate Bachmann for allegedly misusing her campaign funds. The Federal Election Commission had announced a parallel inquiry.
But while those woes may have factored into Bachmann's decision to cut and run, a simpler question may have been the deciding factor: Did Michele Bachmann simply rise too far, too fast, sacrificing her currency with her constituents in a foolhardy pursuit of something greater?
Asked whether he thought Bachmann damaged her standing back home by seeking the presidency, veteran Republican strategist Trey Hardin said, "I do.'
With Bachmann and other candidates who have suffered the same fate, Hardin explained, "We've certainly seen that that historically happens, and it happens for two reasons: One, because naturally the candidate's not going to be back in the district as much, so there's the basic fact that she represents that district yet she's focused on something else."
The second reason, Hardin said, is that "by running for president, you are exposing yourself to national issues that you did not previously have that could make you vulnerable in your district."
A bigger platform, in other words, can greatly amplify a political figure's power - but the enhanced publicity can also make missteps and gaffes that much more damaging.
Another GOP strategist, Ron Bonjean, said that Bachmann's "outspokenness" and her "sense of disconnect from her district" damaged her with constituents who thought she might be looking out for number one rather than keeping their interests in mind. "If you go outside of what voters are looking for, both in your district and nationally, then you're going to have real problems and clearly she was out of step several times during the course of the presidential campaign," Bonjean added.
Bachmann is hardly alone in that folly. The graveyard of American politics is littered with the stories of members of Congress whose bald ambition undercut their credibility back home. By venturing prematurely and precariously onto the national stage, the rough edges of political figures that may go unnoticed atop the smaller platform of a regional lawmaker can be thrown into stark relief under the klieg lights of a presidential campaign.
The results have seldom been pretty.