Is Michele Bachmann dragging the tea party down with her?

Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann is sinking in the polls. A prominent voice in the tea party movement says "It's time for Bachmann to go."

Jeff Chiu/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.

Is Michele Bachmann dragging down the tea party as a whole as she sinks in the polls?

Don’t look at us – we’re not the first to raise this question. We’re just repunditing an idea from Ned Ryun, head of the tea party group American Majority.

On Thursday, Mr. Ryun posted a piece on the American Majority blog entitled, “Bachmann’s Floundering Can Damage Tea Party.” In it, he argues that since Rep. Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa straw poll her campaign has been hampered by a loss of staff, poor fundraising, and an apparent lack of direction. He anticipates that she will shift even further right in coming weeks as she competes for votes in conservative Iowa, straying from the core tea party message of fiscal responsibility.

Election 101: Ten facts about Michele Bachmann and her presidential bid

Her campaign has become less about government reform and more about her personal effort to stay relevant and sell books, according to Ryun.

“It’s time for Michele Bachmann to go,” wrote Ryun.

First, props to Ryun for sampling the classic Dr. Seuss book, “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!” We read that to our kids to try to get them to go to bed. Interestingly, Dr. Seuss himself apparently meant the book as a political allegory about Richard Nixon and Watergate.

OK, maybe Ryun didn’t link Bachmann with Nixon on purpose. But he’s right that her polls are sinking.

She’s fallen to 3.8 percent in national polls of prospective GOP voters, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average. That puts her dangerously close to the Santorum Line – the 2 percent threshold, from which a campaign teeters over the abyss.

She’s no longer doing well in Iowa, either, which for her might be even worse news than her national numbers. Her flavor-of-the-month period began after her win in the Ames straw poll. She was born in Iowa, comes from a nearby state, and has made Iowa the strategic focus of her campaign. But at the moment she’s in sixth place in Iowa, too, with only about 7 percent of the potential Iowa caucus vote.

But is she hurting the tea party as a whole? There’s no evidence of that at all. Yes, she’s head of the House Tea Party Caucus, but do voters really look to her as the embodiment of the movement? We doubt it – Rick Perry and Herman Cain have tea party links too. Cain’s doing great, to the point where he’s unofficially graduated from flavor-of-the-month to phenomenon-of-the-quarter. Would Ryun argue this boosts the tea party in total?

Let’s look at the polls. According to a Pew Research survey from October 24, 32 percent of the US public supports the tea party at least somewhat, while 44 percent oppose it.

Those aren’t great numbers – Occupy Wall Street does a bit better in the same poll – but they don’t appear to be reflective of a sinking trend line. A Pew survey from August came in with about the same results. And that’s when Bachmann was doing much better.

Bachmann herself thinks the American Majority slam was a Rick Perry plot.

“People have told us that these are Perry supporters and they went out with this and this was meant to be a stealth move and it was clumsy,” said Bachmann on CNN’s “The Situation Room”.

Bachmann campaign officials point out that the tea party movement is highly decentralized and no one person or one organization can claim to speak for it. They say she won’t be getting out of the race just because one individual tells her to.

No, but unless her polls get better, Iowa Republicans might send her the same message in January. Given the focus she’s put on the Hawkeye State, it seems unlikely her campaign could survive a single-digit showing in the caucuses.

Election 101: Ten facts about Michele Bachmann and her presidential bid

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