Michele Bachmann may need her flak jacket tonight

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Aug. 11 2011 11:52 AM

Bachmann May Field Tough Questions Tonight

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

GOP debate number two is tonight, and this time around Michele Bachmann is no longer a marginal figure, as she was at the beginning of the New Hampshire debate back in June. Now she’s a comer, thanks in large part to her performance during that previous debate, when she came across as disciplined and charismatic.

How will she deal with the tough questions posed to her by moderators, not to mention competitors – like Tim Pawlenty, perhaps – eager to take her down a peg? Bachmann has a mixed record when it comes to fielding tough questions. As Mother JonesTim Murphy has pointed out, she has cut short three interviews recently when the questioning made her uncomfortable. Asked by The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza about her admiration for conspiracy-minded theologian Francis Schaeffer, she claimed she had to stop the interview to get ready for an appearance on “Hannity.” Later her press secretary said the candidate “wasn’t comfortable with the line of questions.” In a TV interview, Bachmann was asked about the so-called reparative therapy her husband’s clinic allegedly offers gay patients, prompting a staffer to remove the microphone from Bachmann’s clothing and toss it to the reporter, pronouncing the interview over.

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Tonight, Bachmann may get questions about her ideological influences, about her views on homosexuality, about her history of migraines, which some staffers characterize as incapacitating. She won’t be able to yank off her microphone and walk away. She’s going to have to show she can take the questions without taking the bait, as she did recently in response to questions about Newsweek’s unflattering (and some say sexist) cover photo of her. The difference is, it was easy to take the high road on the Newsweek cover. The photo in question was sufficiently questionable – and the media’s motives are, for many Bachmann fans, sufficiently maligned – that Bachmann didn’t need to say much about the matter to have plenty of people on her side. Her views on homosexuality, on the other hand, have proven far more controversial. Even if Bachmann’s primary competitors don’t want to tackle the matter onstage tonight, the debate’s moderators very well may.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

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