It wasn't long ago that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's rise to the top of the Republican field of presidential candidates was called "meteoric." In August, she won the Iowa Straw Poll. Now, she's polling in the single digits.
But Bachmann is plowing ahead with her campaign, and this week she came out with a memoir, Core of Conviction. In it, she writes about "our 29 children" — by which she means five biological children and a miscarriage, plus 23 foster kids. She spent much of the 1990s as a stay-at-home mom.
In her career, Bachmann worked as an IRS lawyer, opened a charter school and ran a counseling business with her husband. All these experiences, including her time as a foster parent, involved close relations with the government and — in some cases — receiving government money.
To some, her past might seem a contradiction with her Tea Party rhetoric on the campaign trail, but in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Bachmann insists she's not anti-government. She says she just thinks government can be run more efficiently.
"It can do more with a lot less money," she tells Inskeep. "There's also things that government does that they have no business doing."
Bachmann says her goal is to make things better and to fix things.
"My core of conviction," she says, "is centered around the animating principles that created America. One of those is that no one owes you a living."
Bachmann's campaign took a hit after she linked the HPV vaccine with mental retardation. In her book, she says it's really important to get your facts right, but acknowledges that she sometimes comes up short.
"I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that, but the good thing about this process [is that it's] a good training ground to become better, and I'm grateful for that opportunity," she tells Inskeep.
She says she doesn't think she's ever said anything inaccurate during a GOP debate, however, including when she said in Tuesday's national security debate that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. should be made legal overnight.
Though she's staked out strong positions, Bachmann says that as president she would be able to compromise because she doesn't want gridlock.
"You don't stay married for 33 years and not compromise," she says. "You don't raise 29 children without compromise, and you don't build a successful company without compromise. You don't lead a massive education reform movement in my state without compromising. And you don't bring people together the way I did here in Washington to actively work to defeat Obamacare. But I don't compromise principle, that's the difference."
Bachmann says if she's the nominee, she won't rest until 13 other like-minded Republican senators are elected so the GOP has a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority to repeal the health care law and to change the tax code.
"I intend to use that office of the presidency to be able to speak directly into the hearts of the American people about why we need to move legislation, because this is a tsunami election in my opinion," she says. "If you look at the polls, the one who really needs to worry is Barack Obama."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann hopes for another climb on the rollercoaster. The Minnesota congresswoman led many polls last summer; now she's fallen behind as the first voting nears in Iowa.
INSKEEP: This week, she released a book called "Core of Conviction." When we sat down to talk about it, Bachmann spoke of raising children, those born to her and many foster kids.
REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: I had a newborn, a two-year-old, a four-year-old, I had one that was in first grade. I had a seventh grader who was kind of lippy at the time, that's my biological son. And then we had our foster children, and we had every age range. I have a doctorate degree and a post-doctorate degree in federal tax law. And I will tell you, this is the most intellectual challenging experience I've ever had in my life.
WERTHEIMER: With stories like that, Bachmann hopes to give a more rounded view of herself.
INSKEEP: She rose to national attention with fierce rhetoric. During last summer's battle over the federal debt ceiling, Bachmann opposed raising it and she dismissed warnings of financial disaster.
WERTHEIMER: Her rhetoric also caused her trouble. For example, Bachmann said on TV that a vaccine was harmful to children. The fact-checking website PolitiFact.com rated her statements false.
INSKEEP: PolitiFact also questioned her statements in a debate this week, and it was after that debate that we met with the candidate who has worked to represent the Tea Party movement against larger goverment. Her book suggests the complexity of her story. She spent years on government payrolls, as a tax lawyer, running a charter school, and as a politician.
BACHMANN: I'm not anti-government, that we shouldn't have government. It's that I believe that government can be run more efficiently. It can do more with a lot less money. And there's also things that government does that they have no business doing.
INSKEEP: You began by saying you're not anti-government. You want to fix how it works.
BACHMANN: That's right. That's right.
INSKEEP: Is there something about your rhetoric or the rhetoric of many people in the conservative movement that have given the impression that people are anti-government?
BACHMANN: Well, I suppose you'd have to ask the people who listen to what my rhetoric is or what other people's rhetoric is, if they feel that it's anti-government or not. My whole goal is to make things better and to fix things.
But in my book, what I talk about is, what it is that motivates me. What is the 3D aspect of Michele Bachmann that is my core? And my core of conviction is centered around the animating principles that created America. One of those is that no one owes you a living.
INSKEEP: You write in your book - I'm paraphrasing here - that you think it's really important in political debate to get your facts right. But you acknowledge that sometimes you've come up a little bit short.
BACHMANN: Oh, absolutely. I wish was perfection on - walking on air. But I'm not. I've gotten things wrong, but I try very hard to get my facts right. And there's times when I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that. But the good thing about this process, let me say this, it's a good training ground to become better. And I'm grateful for that opportunity.
INSKEEP: Let's stipulate that everybody makes mistakes when they speak, and has to correct them sometimes later on. But I'm wondering, when you're in these moments in speeches or in debates, what was going through your mind? Were you trying really hard to draw a bright contrast with your opponents, and the rhetoric just went a little too far?
BACHMANN: I'm happy to say I don't think I said anything inaccurate in any of the debates. And I'm extremely grateful for that. It's is a high-profile stage, and so I'm grateful that I don't think that I've made a blunder.
INSKEEP: I have a piece of tape, if you don't mind me playing this.
BACHMANN: Okay, go ahead.
INSKEEP: In the debate on foreign policy the other day on CNN, there was an exchange - a really interesting one - between Newt Gingrich and you. It involved other candidates as we went along. But the former House speaker made a statement about immigration, which he intended to be a rather nuanced statement about perhaps allowing some legal way for some currently illegal immigrants to stay.
You responded by saying: I don't agree with letting 11 million illegal people becoming legal. And Speaker Gingrich responded that that's not what he meant at all. Let's listen to that exchange.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
INSKEEP: Now, in fairness, Congresswoman Bachmann, I'm not exactly sure what Newt Gingrich meant by that statement. But I'm pretty sure he did not say let's legalize 11 million illegals today. Why did you say that he just had said that?
BACHMANN: Because he's on record saying that. He's on record saying that he believes that the 11 million workers - illegal workers that are in the United States today - should be made legal. Of all of the candidates that are the stage, he is the farthest in being in the amnesty camp. He doesn't call it amnesty, but he said that he is open to having the 11 million workers in the country be made legal overnight. He's not talking about only people who've been here for 25 years. He's talking about all workers that are here in the United States illegally.
BACHMANN: There is no other candidate on the stage that is willing to make illegal workers legal. There's no other candidate on the stage willing to be for the Federal Dream Act other than former Speaker Gingrich.
INSKEEP: But did you make the difference more dramatic than it is? I mean, is there really only - are there really only two positions here, either you're with your position, or you're in favor of legalizing 11 million people right away?
BACHMANN: Well, again, I'm going from the speaker's statement that he made prior to last night on the stage. The statement that he made in another forum is that he would be willing to make 11 million illegal workers legal.
INSKEEP: Give me an idea as someone who has seen this from - well, from the seat on the rollercoaster - how it is you think you rose so quickly in the polls over the summer, and how it is that you think you've slid back again.
BACHMANN: Well, I think that wouldn't be just me. I think that's a lot of the candidates in the race.
INSKEEP: Just about everyone, yes.
BACHMANN: It's like it's a political Wall Street, you know. If you look at how stocks go up and down, it's the same thing with politics. One thing people know about me is that I'm authentic and sincere, so I'm not pulling anyone's leg when I'm out campaigning. What I say is what I mean. I think that's allowed me to win in Minnesota and in Iowa, and we have a great deal of support, and so people I think are going to be shocked on January 3rd.
We're working very hard, and I'm aiming to win. I'm aiming to defeat Barack Obama, not only in the general, but to be the Republican nominee, and we see a clear pathway to victory.
INSKEEP: Would you be able to govern if you won?
BACHMANN: Of course. Absolutely I could govern, without a shadow of a doubt I can govern.
INSKEEP: And I'm not asking about your experience here, competence, or anything else. I'm asking specifically about the way that you've staked out very strong political positions.
BACHMANN: Of course I can, because this is what I will do as the Republican nominee. I won't rest without helping to elect 13 more like-minded Republican U.S. senators. That would get us to a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority, and that will allow us to be able repeal Obamacare, repeal Dodd-Frank. I've written the legislation to do both of those, and to be able to change the tax code.
INSKEEP: So if somebody says how do you compromise, how do you do the muddy, ugly work of...
BACHMANN: Well, goodness...
INSKEEP: ...actually passing bills, your answer is: I'm not going to have to compromise, I'm going to...
BACHMANN: No, that's not...
INSKEEP: ...win so big that...
BACHMANN: That's not true at all because there's compromises you need to make within your own political party as well. You don't stay married for 33 years and not compromise. You don't raise 29 children without compromising; you don't build a successful company without compromising. You don't lead a massive education reform movement in my state without compromising, and you don't bring people together the way I did here in Washington to actively work to defeat Obamacare.
INSKEEP: But help me here. Let's say...
BACHMANN: But I don't compromise principle, that's the difference.
INSKEEP: Help me here. Let's say you become president of the United States. You win the election in 2012, but Republicans for whatever reason don't get 60 votes in the Senate, which is what it's required to pass something in the Senate these days without any help from the other party. Would your answer then be, well, okay, two more years of gridlock?
BACHMANN: I don't want gridlock. My attempt is to move forward. One thing I'm able to do is take a complex subject and break it down and speak about it plainly so people understand it. I intend to use that office of the presidency to be able to speak directly into the hearts of the American people about why we need to move legislation, because this is a tsunami election in my opinion. If you look at the polls, the one who really needs to worry is Barack Obama.
INSKEEP: Michele Bachmann is a Minnesota member of Congress, Republican presidential candidate, and author of the new book "Core of Conviction: My Story." Thanks very much.
BACHMANN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.