With Rep. Michele Bachmannâ€™s announcement that sheâ€™ll leave Congress in 2014, colleagues and allies are left to wonder who will take her place as the tea party standard-bearer in the House.
They arenâ€™t sure yet, but they do know one thing: There wonâ€™t be another Michele Bachmann.
Credited with energizing the tea party movement in its early stages, and for giving it prominence on Capitol Hill with her founding of the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010, the Minnesota Republicanâ€™s charisma, media savvy and talent for incendiary comments vaulted her from backbencher to household name before her ill-fated run for president in 2012.
â€œSheâ€™s a beautiful woman, very articulate and has a really strong voice,â€ mused one colleague, Rep. John Fleming, R-La. â€œHere I am, a guy, and Iâ€™m in the same room as Michele Bachmann, and her voice carries twice as well as mine does.â€
Bachmann embraced her persona as a divisive and polarizing public figure, taking pride in being disliked by members of her own party â€” and taking extreme policy stands, such as opposing any increase in the debt ceiling, that put her at odds with GOP leadership and the Washington establishment.
Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots said Bachmann had to have a â€œtitanium spineâ€ and any future Tea Party Caucus leader would need to have that, too.
Fleming isnâ€™t sure, however, that itâ€™s all that helpful to talk about finding a successor to Bachmann in Bachmann terms, since the movementâ€™s stakeholders are likely to come up short.
â€œShe brought to the table some qualities that are very special and unique,â€ Fleming said. â€œIf I were to just have to guess right now, is there one member who could easily fit that bill, I would say it would be difficult to come up with that person.â€
Tea party leaders of national groups and allies of Bachmann on Capitol Hill tend to be in agreement with Fleming: Bachmann could be the last of her kind.
But thatâ€™s not necessarily a bad thing, they say. Rather, it might just mean that the tea party has evolved into something different, and that Bachmannâ€™s exit, while lamentable, could facilitate that evolution.
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