There are only a few audience questions. Nicole Cavreriva, a skeptical Democrat, asks how Bachmann will be more effective than President Obama at working with Congress.
“It’s been highly contentious,” nods Bachmann. “As a matter of fact, we’ve been threatened eight times this year with a government shutdown.” Is it the start of a mea culpa about how House Republicans have governed? No, it’s the start of Bachmann’s pledge to elect 13 Republican senators to break filibusters. A more sympathetic questioner asks her again: What if Republicans don’t win 13 seats. “O, ye of little faith!” says Bachmann.
“I guess it’s a logical answer,” shrugs Cavreriva after the speech. “She’s the new Margaret Thatcher. Who knew?” The Republicans in the audience are kinder, but they’re not talking about caucusing for her. “I like Romney’s business experience,” explains Mark Kron. Bachmann keeps saying she was a tax lawyer and a small business owner (that would be the Bachmann Clinic, the ex-gay facility), but it doesn’t sway him.
Bachmann moves right on, taking her campaign bus to the steps of the state capitol. It drives by Kent Sorenson, who’s doing a Fox News hit and reasserting his integrity. It parks outside the building, dark blue against tan stone, as the candidate talks to the Iowa Association of Mortgage Brokers. The bus has been repainted with the slogan, “Win Win Win,” a phrase Bachmann used at a debate to one-up Herman Cain on his 9-9-9 plan. Bachmann is very much on her game at this stop, conversant on the facts. “Under Dodd-Frank, only 26 percent of the rules have been written so far,” she says. “The banking industry is a bad investment right now.”
Bachmann finishes her county tour in central Iowa, ending it in Nevada, aides showing off a cake that commemorates the accomplishment. These aides enter the diner, apologizing, because Bachmann needs to do a TV hit before visiting. Can volunteers come outside to hold signs behind her? They can. They stand there as Bachmann argues with Wolf Blitzer about Sorensongate.
“I've got my phone, my phone log that shows I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson,” she says. “That's when he told me, a number of other people on our campaign, that he was offered money by the Ron Paul campaign.” At the break, she holds up her white iPhone for reporters, who snap pictures of it, Sorenson’s personal number clearly visible from a Tuesday, 3:11 p.m. call.
What good does it do her to close out Iowa with a he-said-she-showed-phone-logs stick fight? It builds some sympathy. Voters I talk to immediately assume that Sorenson is a cad, and Bachmann was wronged. State Sen. Robert Bacon shows up at the diner to be polite, even though he’s endorsed Rick Santorum. When I ask about Sorenson, he leans back, as if recovering from a hit to the kidneys.
“I need to talk to Kent,” he says. “I don’t know what happened. But I don’t like to hear things like ‘everybody’s for sale.’ I can speak for myself, I’m not for sale.”
Bachmann enters the diner, gets handed a giant serrated knife for cake-cutting, and waves it around for cameras. “This is what I’m bringing to the White House!” She cuts a few slices, repeats the “Iron Lady” line and a short stump speech, then apologizes: She has to speed out for an interview with Simon Conway, another sympathetic radio host. “I have to do it in studio,” she explains. The floor is ceded to Tamara Scott, Bachmann’s Iowa co-chair, who recently warned that gay marriage could lead to legal marriage between people and “Eiffel Tower”-like objects. She talks for 20 minutes about how, despite what people may think, it’s all right, as far as the Bible’s concerned, for conservatives to elect a woman president. “Think of Queen Esther,” she says. “And Jesus was revolutionary in the way he treated women.”
The diners, around 40 of them, generally like Bachmann. But they’re miffed that she left so quickly. One of them, a Vietnam veteran, wanted to ask her whether or not she would bring back the draft. (He’s for it.) Most of them will miss the Bachmann appearance on the radio, which I get to hear on the drive out. Bachmann is preceded on the show by Rick Santorum, who simply calls in. He gets easier questions than her. She spends so much time talking about Sorenson that the host cuts a caller off.
“We’ve gotten enough questions about that,” says Conway. “There are so many other issues to discuss.”