Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., announced this week that her fourth term in Congress will be her last. In this photo, Bachmann attends a book signing at Books-A-Million Friday, Dec. 2, 2011, in Rock Hill, S.C. (Richard Shiro/AP)

When Michele Bachmann announced that she would not be seeking a fifth term in Congress, the media was quick to note that the Minnesota Republican was under investigation by four separate agencies owing to alleged campaign finance violations in her 2012 presidential run. Plus, she had barely won her last campaign and was viewed as a sitting duck in the 2014 race.

So that’s the official narrative: The Tea Party firebrand finally wore out her welcome after years of making false and incendiary accusations against, well, pretty much anyone not adhering to her particular beliefs.

Pundits may have enjoyed playing her as a wild-eyed ditz who never met a fact she couldn’t mangle, or a conspiracy theory she wouldn’t promote, but Bachmann knows exactly what she’s doing.

But as Bachmann herself pointed out, with her characteristic flair for self-promotional self-pity, this narrative puts her decision in a pretty negative light.

And that’s wrong.

Pundits may have enjoyed playing her as a wild-eyed ditz who never met a fact she couldn’t mangle, or a conspiracy theory she wouldn’t promote, but Bachmann knows exactly what she’s doing.

In fact, her legacy perfectly encapsulates the rise of the “brandidate.”

What are brandidates, you ask?

They’re political candidates who reinvent themselves as ideological brands — celebrities even — then make millions as media personalities, public speakers, and issue advocates.

The most famous recent example is Sarah Palin, who was elected governor of Alaska in 2006, served as John McCain’s nominee for vice president in 2008, and resigned as governor less than a year later.

She was immediately hired as a commentator on Fox News, became one of the hottest (and most expensive) stars on the Tea Party speaking circuit, and starred in her own short-lived reality TV show. She still attracts a lot of media attention and makes a lot of money.

But Palin and Bachmann are hardly the only recent examples of brandidates. Consider Newt Gingrich, who hasn’t held public office this millennium and yet continues to run for president.

Hey, it’s good for business, which in Gingrich’s case includes not just speaking fees, business seminars, and punditry, but a series of shady for-profit ventures all predicated on his celebrity.

Of course, Donald Trump was smart enough to understand the potential revenue streams associated with becoming a brandidate, and thus, with no political experience whatsoever he tried to convince Americans that he was maybe going to run for the Republican nomination.

Trump wasn’t really interested in elected office.

In fact, none of these brandidates are particularly interested in the boring task of governing, which requires meeting the needs of constituents (some of whom may disagree with you, or have needs you don’t care to honor), studying the issues, writing (or at least reading) bills, and seeking compromises.

That stuff is for suckers.

No, all things considered, it’s much easier and much more lucrative to become a brandidate. No dull legislative duties. No fact checkers. No pesky ethics investigators. Just an endless parade of dazzled partisan consumers eager to hear you articulate their misty dreams and grievances.

I realize, of course, that I’ve neglected to target any liberal brandidates. This isn’t because I suspect liberals are above such things. I just think they’re nowhere near as motivated as their counterparts.

The fact is, the Tea Party movement, along with the conservative media, along with a multitude of corporate-funded advocacy groups and forums, has created a ready-made market for right-wing brandidates.

Politics has become just another entertainment platform, rather than a serious pursuit intended to solve our common crises of state.

Of course, in the old political universe, the standard exit strategy for politicians of all persuasions was to quietly land a gig as a lobbyist.

There was, and is, something deeply cynical in this pattern.

So perhaps brandidates deserve some form of praise. At least they shake their moneymakers in front of live audiences, and cameras, rather than behind closed doors.

But more than anything, the rise of the brandidate as an archetype speaks to the perversion of our modern civic culture. Politics has become just another entertainment platform, rather than a serious pursuit intended to solve our common crises of state.

As an elected official, Michele Bachmann did little more than give voice to the paranoid delusions of her GOP base. She made no serious effort to build coalitions that might enact laws for her constituents. In pursuing her given destiny as a brandidate, she has been liberated from having to pretend she ever cared to.


Tags: Election 2012, Election 2014

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  • The Green Devil

    It’s all entertainment and draining money from the rubes seeking affirmation for their backwards racist conspiratorial views. It’s classic Americana.

  • Futo Buddy

    They’re political candidates who reinvent themselves as ideological brands — celebrities even — then make millions as media personalities, public speakers, and issue advocates.
    not that i am a fan of michele (although i am a fan of her daughters work) or any of the folks in this article i can think of a few liberals who would fall in that catagory, like this guy for example:

    • Blake Mitchell

      As i understand the definition, in order to qualify as a brandidate, the person in question must be more successful as a non-elected celebrity, than as a politician/lawmaker who is beholden to constituents. Thus disqualifying Obama. Sorry to disappoint.

      • LeftShooter

        I disagree. I would also extend the brandidate definition or variation to include someone that likes running for office more than governing from it and I think that Obama fairly fits there, after all, State Senator (ran 2x), US Congress (lost), US Senator, and two presidential elections in what, about 10 years? His elections successes seem stronger than his overall governance performance.

        • Blake Mitchell

          Disagree all you like, but you’re wrong. And who are you to decide what things he likes doing more than others? That’s crazy. You don’t know, and there’s now way for you to know.

          A brandidate is someone who leverages a political career into an easier and more lucrative career as a celebrity brand advocate. The political career is only a means to another end. Just because you personally don’t like Obama doesn’t mean he fits the definition of a brandidate, so stop trying to change the definition in a desperate attempt to make it so.

          • LeftShooter

            You seem personally invested in this, more so than I am anyway. How would you explain Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, if not for the “Hope” brand? I don’t think I have to change anyone’s definition of results to say that Obama didn’t win that based on results, do you agree?

          • Blake Mitchell

            No, I’m not personally invested at all. It just bothers me when I see people trying to change what words mean in order to make them serve their desired agenda.

          • Futo Buddy

            ok, it does only apply to right wingers. when brandidate gets in “the” dictionary make sure it says that it only applies to right wingers. I will just stick with the word shill and leave the brandidates and the brangelenas and puggles or whatever to you.

          • Futo Buddy

            lol i was going to mention how he got the nobel peace prize while conducting several wars after only a short period in office. he even admitted he did not really deserve it

          • Futo Buddy

            you can what he likes doing by how he chooses to spend his time.
            a “brandidate” is a newly minted word that can mean whatever you want it to i guess.
            when oboma makes more money as president than he does as an author and speaker you might have a point. by the way i like oboma just fine

      • Futo Buddy

        i see, we have to wait 3 years or go back in history to 2008 to classify oboma as such, thanks for the clarification

  • Tim O

    Love the term and the explanation. Running for Prez is good for business. Hate to admit Bachman is good at anything but she has the advantage of a cell phone plan that includes unlimited minutes with God.

    Can I assume the lucrative result doesn’t solely define the means lest Al Gore be the richest and brandiest of them all, and the speaking fees for one William J Clinton….they at least have brain power beyond self promotion, (it was not easy to invent the internet). Is the inconvenient truth that the stage of political theater is not a destination for many but a launching pad?

    Great job!

    • responseTwo

      Yes, the remark about inverting the internet is totally false. That being said, Al Gore did have remarkable vision back in the early/mid 90’s. I was doing part-time engineering in the early/mid 90’s. We downloaded the Mosaic browser from Indiana state university onto a Unix machine and managed , with the professor’s help, to get it running. The home page of Mosaic had a picture of Al Gore and a long message that predicted what has indeed happened with the internet since the mid 90’s. Too bad he went off and made such a dumb remark about inventing it.

      • Lilee

        He never said it. They right said he said he invented the internet.

  • Tom Robertson

    Thought-provoking article.

  • Kate Ellis

    so well stated my friend, and the Jesus belt will continue to create these individuals and sustain their wealth, morons

  • Lilee

    Enjoyed this article. What’s scary is that these people may not be interested in getting into office but what if they do? Bachmann/Palin were in office. Their votes counted. Sure they’re narcissists who can’t be bothered with the details, but their actions and power affects the quality of our lives so they can’t just be dismissed as ineffectual. (Palin was the Republican Vice Presidential candidate. How scary is that and what does that say about America?) We average folk are so stupid and so dazzled by the narcissistic personality–even when it’s embarrassingly obvious how stupid the narcissist “candidate” is–that in a way we deserve this. In fact, a lot of people are contemptuous of a ruffled pol with a nose for passing legislations. (Which includes compromise.) Finally, most people are so dumb when it comes to history (blame our schools for that one) that when Bachmann and the like makes her super stupid remarks nobody flinches but the pundits. We the People should recognize these self-serving sickos a mile out and they shouldn’t gain a moments notice–the fact that they do have grand ”success” says an awful lot about us.