It’s not easy to get to Michele Bachmann. Her appearance at a rally on Tuesday in Aiken, S.C., attended by perhaps 150 people, featured three uniformed police officers and two plainclothes bodyguards. One of those guards spent much of the day preventing reporters from getting too close to the candidate. After her speech, as she greeted fans and signed autographs, he planted himself directly in front of another man filming her chitchat with a handheld video camera. (At another event on Tuesday, I saw the same man making hand gestures to another Bachmann staffer when I came near with a pen and pad.)
But for Bachmann there was no escaping the media’s intense interest in a report that she suffers from crippling migraines, as indicated by the ominous presence of ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross at her rally. (It’s a handy rule of thumb that when Brian Ross is around, you have a problem.) So shortly after her remarks, Bachmann stepped away from the stage and read a statement that her press aide Alice Stewart appeared to have been fine-tuning just moments before. Here’s an excerpt:
Since entering this campaign for the presidency, I have maintained a full schedule between my duties as Congresswoman and as a presidential candidate traveling across the nation to meet with voters … I have prescribed medication that I take on occasion whenever symptoms arise and they keep my migraines under control. But I’d like to be abundantly clear: My ability to function effectively will not affect my ability to serve as commander in chief. [Update: Bachmann's campaign later released her complete statement. She appears to have misread the last line above, which I transcribed verbatim.]
Bachmann said 30 million Americans suffer from migraines and that “nearly 1 in 4 American households” have a migraine sufferer. “While I appreciate the concern for myself and for my health,” she added, looking to climb back down to safer ground, “the greater concern should be the debate that is occurring today in Washington, D.C., over whether or not we will increase our debt spending and taxes.” Bachmann reiterated that she would not vote to raise the debt ceiling. And with that, she departed without taking questions.
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That’s when things got interesting. Ross dashed after Bachmann, repeatedly asking whether she had ever missed a House vote due to a migraine. She ignored him. Ross pursued her into a parking area behind the stage. Her aides grew alarmed. When Ross made a beeline for the white SUV waiting to carry Bachmann away, two Bachmann men pounced on him, grabbing and pushing him multiple times with what looked to me like unusual force. In fact, I have never seen a reporter treated so roughly at a campaign event, especially not a presidential one. Ross was finally able to break away and lob his question at Bachmann one more time, but she continued to ignore him.
Afterward, I asked Ross — a hard-nosed pro who nevertheless seemed slightly shaken — whether he had ever been treated so roughly. “A few times,” he told me. “Mostly by Mafia people.”
To zoom out for a minute, what’s most interesting here isn’t Bachmann’s headaches. She’s still a long way from the nuclear football, and unless the story takes some darker turn, I don’t see why a seemingly manageable battle with migraines would be a game changer for her candidacy.
The more pertinent question may have to do with Bachmann’s preparedness for the campaign circus. Running for President, at least in its early retail stage, requires a willingness to answer inconvenient questions in settings more chaotic and unpredictable than the cable-television interviews to which she is accustomed. The trail is a messy place where reporters will swarm you. It’s definitely not always fun — and can be enough to give even a seasoned candidate a migraine. The question raised this afternoon is whether Bachmann is ready for it.