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Michele Bachmann Gains in Strength: Can She Get the Republican Nomination?

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace turned to his guest Michele Bachmann and asked her, “Are you a flake?” Later he apologized, explaining that he only meant to seek her answer to what others in the media and elsewhere were saying about her. But what Bachmann did in response helped establish the command she has in the Iowa caucus, and the growing respect of so many for her, including those who are her political enemies.

Instead of complaining about the question, aside from saying that it was an insult because she is a “serious person,” she used the opportunity to make it crystal clear why the very charge is more than insulting. Said Bachmann:

Well, I would say is that I am 55 years old. I've been married 33 years. I'm not only a lawyer, I have a post doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I work in serious scholarship and work in the United States federal tax court.

My husband and I raised five kids. We've raised 23 foster children. We've applied ourselves to education reform. We started a charter school for at-risk kids.

I've also been a state senator and a member of United States Congress for five years. I've been very active in our business.

As a job creator, I understand job creation. But also I've been leading actively the movement in Washington, D.C., with those who are affiliated with fiscal reform.

Many of her detractors undoubtedly learned of her accomplishments at that moment, and must have been stunned to hear especially about her master's degree in tax law from William and Mary. Readers of The Weekly Standard are not among those, however, who were surprised. The cover story this week by Matthew Continetti lays out in detail how Bachmann, whom he dubs the “Queen of the Tea Party,” got to where she is today. Despite the opposition of the Republican Party leadership, Bachmann is likely to beat Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses, as well as gain the mainstream credibility she has lacked up to now.

One can disagree with her politics and her approach to some issues, and still acknowledge that Bachmann is both serious and principled. As Continetti reveals, she is a talented fund-raiser, a woman who takes principled stands on issues she believes in and who knows what she is talking about on fiscal issues. I was surprised to learn that when she finished high school, Bachmann went to Israel to work on a kibbutz, driving on a flatbed truck at 4 am to cotton fields to pull out weeds, surrounded by IDF soldiers protecting the members.

Her support for Israel stems from that experience, and is not a politically motivated recent concern. Continetti writes:

"If you consider what it was like in 1948," she said, "and literally watch flowers bloom in a desert over time -- I don’t know if any nation has paralleled the rise of Israel since 1948." A member of Christians United for Israel, she’s one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress. One Jewish Minnesota Republican has told me of speeches at local Republican Jewish Coalition events where Bachmann has brought cheering audiences to their feet.

She is a determined, strong woman who worked three jobs to put herself through college. Later she and the man who would be her husband endorsed and worked for Jimmy Carter in 1976, whom they saw as a fellow evangelical Christian, even driving to Washington to attend his inauguration. Quickly disillusioned by Carter’s policies, Bachmann proclaimed herself a Republican. She never looked back.

Once she got to Congress, Continetti writes that she eschewed what most freshman members of Congress do, which is to keep a low profile and build coalitions. Instead, she chose to use her position as a platform to expound the ideas she believed in. Often compared to Sarah Palin, Continetti explains the major difference between the two Republican women:

Whereas Palin makes emotional and cultural appeals to her supporters, Bachmann formulates an argument. She talks like a litigating attorney, and her speeches, op-eds, and interviews are littered with references to books and articles. Not all of her references are conservative. During our recent interview, Bachmann cited Lawrence Wright’s history of al Qaeda, The Looming Tower ("I love that book!"), to illustrate a point about the rise of radical Islam.