Michele Bachmann’s Pick for Mount Rushmore: Why Garfield?

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In an exclusive interview with ABC News earlier today, Michele Bachmann named her picks for who should accompany the founding fathers on Mount Rushmore, and her choices might surprise you.

Predictably, she indicated Ronald Reagan, but not so easy to guess were Calvin Coolidge and her top pick, James Garfield.

As the nation’s 20th president, Garfield was only in office for 200 days before his assassination, making his the second-shortest term. Presidential historian Justus Doenecke said Garfield was a very intelligent man, calling him “the scholar in politics,” but labeled him as a question mark in terms of what he could have done as president.

Doenecke pointed to a recent biography called “Destiny of the Republic” as a potential explanation for Bachmann’s high opinion of the 19 th-century president.

“This might just be in Bachmann’s mind,” Doenecke said, “because most people don’t think much of Garfield one way or another.”

So why would Bachmann pick Garfield?

Garfield epitomizes the American Dream; he was raised fatherless and escaped poverty to reach Washington. Former National Geographic editor Candice Millard writes in “Destiny of the Republic” that Garfield’s mother was so poor after his father’s death that he did not own a pair of shoes until he was four years old.

Like Bachmann, Garfield served in Congress before running for the Oval Office. He also had a big family, raising six biological children – just one more than Bachmann’s five. And like Bachmann, Garfield experienced an impassioned conversion to Protestantism at the age of 18. As Bachmann, also Protestant, said in her interview, she was 16 when she “gave [her] life to Jesus Christ.” These similarities position Garfield as a good role model for the would-be president who might hope to follow in his path to the Oval Office.

Perhaps she admires his mathematic ability. Before his short term in the White House, Garfield published a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem in the New England Journal of Education.

Or maybe it’s his approach to the economy that Bachmann likes. Doenecke characterized Garfield’s economic strategy as “basically laissez-faire and hard money.”

But Doenecke emphasized that even in this area, Garfield had room to grow.

“I certainly wouldn’t put him on Mount Rushmore,” Doenecke said. “I’d put up his replacement [Chester] Arthur before I’d put up Garfield.”