After a tumultuous three weeks on the post-Ames campaign trail that were marred by a plunge in the polls, controversial jokes about deadly hurricanes, and rival Rick Perry’s surge, the consensus view was that Michele Bachmann needed a strong performance in Wednesday’s GOP debate at the Reagan Library.
The Minnesota congresswoman had dominated the past two debates in New Hampshire and Iowa, so there was reason to believe she might deliver another impressive display in California, too.
Instead, it seemed, she was relegated to the second tier of candidates. The focus of the debate was clearly Perry vs. Mitt Romney. From the start, Bachmann was more low-key than she has been in the past. She did not utter a single word for nearly the first quarter of an hour. When she did speak, she did not engage the other candidates, making no attempt to go after Perry, Romney or others.
It was a marked change from her aggressive stance at the previous debates, especially her display in Iowa when she repeatedly went toe to toe with rival Tim Pawlenty. And whereas on that August night her campaign furiously churned out press releases and opposition research, tonight her staff sent out a solitary email, on her energy stance.
Is her subdued performance in Simi Valley this evening the sign of some new strategy, especially after the departure of her campaign manager Ed Rollins? Or is it simply a product of the spotlight now shining on her rivals who sit far higher in the polls? We should know soon enough, starting at next Monday’s debate in Tampa.