Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Bachmann campaigns at a Rock the Caucus event on the morning of the Iowa caucuses.

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann dropped out of the GOP presidential race on Wednesday morning in Des Moines after a fairly disastrous sixth-place finish at the Iowa caucuses. "I believe that if we are going to repeal Obamacare, turn our country around, and take back our country, we must do so united," explained the one-time front-runner, whose campaign began to collapse almost immediately after her triumph at the Ames Straw Poll in August. "And I believe that we must rally behind the person that our country and our party and our people select to be that standard-bearer." In characteristic Bachmann fashion, she left her audience with a dire warning: If Americans don't elect the right candidate next November (she wouldn't suggest who that might be), the United States would become a socialist country. Take it to the bank.

Bachmann's campaign might be history, but no one can ever take away the memories. She represented—to paraphrase Kennedy—the greatest collection of paranoia, factual inaccuracy, and overheated rhetoric since Herman Cain dined alone. And she will be missed. Here's a quick look at the road we traveled:

  1. Her proposal to build a border fence through the Rio Grande and across the length of Big Bend National Park, even though that would have the unintended consequence of diverting the course of the river and, by extension, the US–Mexico border.
  2. Her autobiography, which made its first of many egregious factual errors on the very first page.
  3. The time she tried to sway undecided Iowa voters by dancing to Train's "Soul Sister."
  4. Bachmann Eyes!
  5. The time she accused Rick Perry of giving teenage girls a vaccine that made them "retarded," was soundly rebuked by the entire pediatric community, and insisted that she was just relaying what had been told to her:

     

  6. Her obsessions with lightbulbs, the regulation of which she believes is a steppingstone to United Nations tyranny.
  7. The time she promised to close the US embassy in Iran, which does not currently exist.
  8. Her insistence that the CIA had outsourced its interrogation policy to the ACLU.
  9. The time she paid strategist Ed Rollins $90,000 to help run her campaign.
  10. Her use of the title "Dr.," even though she is not a doctor by any commonly accepted standard.

Why does the GOP race suddenly seem a little less marvelous?

Rick Santorum: "The Militant" Candidate

They've tallied up the results at Johnston, Iowa's precinct 481 and the big winner is...well, that's not totally clear. But here are the basics: Out of 335 votes cast, Mitt Romney claimed 76; Rick Santorum had 75—and further down, Michele Bachmann had 15; Jon Huntsman trailed former Alabama supreme court judge Roy Moore, by a 2 to 1 margin (Moore had 2, Huntsman had 1). Huntsmentum, feel it.

Over at Santorum headquarters at the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, the mood is fairly jubilant. There's a sizable crowd around the television, chanting "Rick! Rick! Rick!" (and the occasional ear-piercing whistle) whenever Fox News returns from commercial and updates its results. Steven Wagner's monitoring the television, as the results begin to show, for the first time, Santorum, creeping into first place. He's actually from DC—he flew to Iowa this weekend because Santorum's a family friend. And as much as it might pain him to say it, he wasn't quite sure Santorum was ever going to catch fire. "I was really waiting for Rick to make a move and was kind of perplexed as to why he hadn't caught on," he says. "I didn't think that it was his year, in a structural sense. There was somehow this environment in Iowa that was preventing him from catching on."

But now that he's caught on, Wagner thinks there's no stopping him. "I think Rick's the kind of militant candidate that'll give the president a run for his money. He means what he says to his bones."

Undecided in Iowa

Through some stroke of luck*, I've made it to a caucus location at an evangelical church in Johnson, Iowa—just down the street from Rick Santorum's caucus night party at the Stoney Creek Inn. The stage is still set for Christmas services—there are five Christmas trees on stage, and a baby grand piano; the place is about three-quarters full. Santorum's wife, Karen, is here and, by all accounts, she gave voters the hard sell (although it was Santorum's Florida campaign chair who gave the official endorsement speech). 

One quirk of the caucus system is that, at each location, each candidate has an official endorser. An endorsers' pitch can have a big impact on how voters come down. None of the voters I spoke with were 100 percent sure who they were going to vote for. Here are four snapshots from the crowd:

  • Tara Helwig: "I'm not completely sure. I'm swayed a little, but it's possible I'd switch." Her candidate for now? "Mitt Romney. I just kinda feel like"—she motions to her friend sitting next to her—"we were discussing this. He's the one with the most experience in the area I'm most concerned about." That's the economy. "I'm not saying for sure; I'm not saying definitely. I chatted with [Ann Romney] and she answered some of my questions very well." But not her questions on Santorum's experience on the economy. That's key. She voted for Romney in 2008, too.
  • Lee Sellneyer: "I guess for me, maybe Romney and Santorum." He'd met Karen Santorum a few moments earlier, and it's part of the reason he's thinking of voting for him. "She basically just talked about his issues, the economy, right to life. I mentioned being NRA and she said she was. I'm impressed that she's doing it. It's a lot of effort." He voted for Huckabee in 2007.
  • Alan and Barbara Morton: "I think we're getting close," says Alan, wearing a Packers hat. They're leaning toward Rick Santorum "because we talked to his wife," Alan says. "We've been flipping back and forth between Herman Cain and Rick Perry and Rick Santorum." Their one concern about Perry: He's not on the ballot on Virginia—and just as important is how he responded to that. They docked points from Perry when he filed suit in federal court to reverse the state GOP's decision, pointing out that it contradicted his 10th Amendment arguments. They voted for Fred Thompson in 2008, "and then he dropped out." 
  • Liz Smith: "I'm not 100 percent," but she's leaning toward Ron Paul. "I just think he's different—he's way different from what we have." What could sway her away from Paul? "Possibly hearing more of the candidates' stances on education." (As it happens, that's pretty much all Bachmann's endorser talks about.) Smith voted for Obama in 2008, but says she won't make that mistake again.

As I write this, they're voting. It's mostly quiet, although one guy is concerned that the press will be allowed to vote (we won't be). The endorsements were fairly low-key, the highlight probably coming when Ron Paul's endorser bragged that Paul had voted to authorize the use of force to go after "Obama." It was a slip-up, and he apologized for it, but he was greeted with laughs and a round of applause.

*By which I mean "no traffic"; these events are open to the public and press—they even allow you to register to vote right before you go in. Voter fraud, it turns out, only becomes a serious issue when you allow Democrats in.

Wed Mar. 30, 2016 9:57 PM EDT
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