Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid has steadily gained ground in the last two months. However, during this same period, a story about her candidacy has similarly morphed from a sidebar to a feature: Bachmann and the gays. In the last few weeks there has been increasing interest on the part of the press in a number of aspects of the relationship between the Minnesota congresswoman and the gay community. Yesterday, in its Sunday edition, the New York Times devoted a front page article on the issue while Politico followed up today with a piece about gay rights groups targeting the candidate.
Bachmann’s longstanding and passionate opposition to gay marriage and her husband’s alleged use of “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuals in his Christian-based practice have both become major stories. This raises the question whether the attention devoted to this topic as well as the increasing fury of gay activist groups will negatively impact her chances. The answer is, probably not in Iowa or other early conservative primary states. But if gays, rather than fiscal conservatism becomes the first thing you think of when Bachmann’s name is mentioned, this may wind up as an obstacle to her nomination.
In the short term, the anger of gay rights groups about her past history in the Minnesotal legislature as a vocal opponent of gay marriage won’t hurt Bachmann. The voters who would be turned off by her stands on the issue or would find her husband’s therapy practice questionable are not a major force in GOP primaries. To the extent Republican voters care about the issue, it actually may work to her benefit. Bachmann’s main focus right now remains on winning the Iowa caucuses, where her strong record on conservative Christian social issues is as much a source of strength to her as her status as the heroine of the Tea Party movement. Getting beaten up for her opposition to gay marriage can only help her with this key voting group and make it even harder for other candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty or Rick Santorum, to make any headway with social issue voters.
Of course, conservative Christians don’t just vote in Iowa. They form a powerful voting bloc within the Republican Party throughout the nation. And the more the liberal media tries to marginalize Bachmann, the more inclined most conservatives will be to embrace her.
But it would be a mistake to think Bachmann ought not to be concerned about her association with gay issues. Bachmann’s success to date has been the product of her strong stands on fiscal issues and a sunny, upbeat personality that has charmed many Republicans who hadn’t known much about her before the last few months. That has helped her overcome some gaffes and the prejudicial attitude of journalists who were ready to put her down as a far right gadfly. Her identity as a devout Christian is an essential part of her candidacy, but it has not completely defined her. Her current path to the nomination, though still strewn with obstacles, is based on a credible scenario that calls for her to emerge as the leading conservative while Romney and others falter. But, even after a victory in Iowa, if the increasing media focus on the gay issue is what is most associated with her in the public mind, it will become a major problem in the later big state primaries and possible derail her long shot hopes of winning the nomination.
Of course, if she does confound the party establishment and win the GOP nomination, you can bet Democrats and the media will spend the fall of 2012 talking about her alleged gay bashing and hoping to brand her as this generation’s right wing extremist version of Barry Goldwater. We’re a long way from there. But as much as the gay community’s anger may boost Bachmann in Iowa, it gives the Republican establishment one more reason to hope she ultimately falls short.