Michele Bachmann rolled out her official presidential campaign Monday – not to be confused with the unofficial debate announcement two weeks ago – in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. (When Bachmann was still a child her family moved to Minnesota, where she would eventually get elected to Congress.) Much has been made of Bachmann’s Iowa roots and the Des Moines Register’s first poll of the 2012 field out Saturday would certainly seem to indicate that Iowa Republicans identify with her. But in an interview with Fox News following her announcement, Bachmann flubbed. “Just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that’s the kind of spirit that I have, too,” she said, standing in front of her childhood home.
Actually, John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, clear across the state. Winterset is south of Des Moines. There’s even a museum there dedicated to John Wayne that I visited with Joe Biden when he was a presidential hopeful in the summer of 2007. Mention the name “John Wayne” in Waterloo and most folks will go, “John Wayne Gacy?”
The most famous John Wayne from Waterloo is John Wayne Gacy, the rapist and serial killer. Though Gacy was originally from Chicago, he began his criminal career in Waterloo. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sodomy of a teenage boy there, but was released early for good behavior and went on to kill 33 people in Chicago. Clearly, Bachmann wasn’t referring to that John Wayne.
Flubs are common on the political campaign trail. Some times they can be damaging, such as John Kerry ordering Swiss cheese on a Philly cheese steak –- a sacrilege to Pennsylvania voters and a mistake that underlined GOP accusations that the wealthy patrician was out-of-touch with the common man. John McCain’s inability to name how many homes he owned was another bruising mistake. And Michael Dukakis learned the hard way that arugula could be a dangerous weapon. Just like George H. W. Bush has probably been painfully aware of the price of milk after this misstep.
Flubs are most deadly when they underline a perception that’s already there. For years, establishment types remarked that Dan Quayle wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he made that reputation worse when he argued on camera with a 12-year-old that potato was spelled with an “e” at the end. So, will Bachmann’s flub hurt her? Probably not. But the danger is that this becomes a regular thing. Too many misspellings, factual mistakes or, misstatements and people start to wonder if you’re the brightest option out there. And Michele Bachmann isn’t exactly known for her, um, delicate rhetoric. Welcome to presidential politics, Rep. Bachmann, where every word counts.