We're experiencing the Santorum surge now, and it seems that the conservatives looking for a way to stop Romney have simply converged on him after the sequential failure of their efforts to converge on Perry, Cain, and Gingrich. But why not Bachmann? She won the Iowa straw poll back in August. If she was that strong then, why was she denied her turn for a surge?
There was her blunder talking about the HPV vaccine causing mental retardation, but that was a single incidence of loose talk, relaying an anecdote, and I doubt if most people even remember that.
I think what has held her back is her husband. A candidate's spouse matters. It was recently reported that when Newt Gingrich was divorcing his first wife, he (supposedly) said to a close friend: "You know and I know that she’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president." Now, Gingrich is on his third wife, and she's relatively young and pretty (though she strikes many people as weird). But Gingrich's decline coincided with some intense focus on Callista. I'm not saying his decline was all about Callista. He had his surge, and that drew all sorts of scrutiny and criticism, and there was plenty to bring him back down. Yet the wife — and the wives — have mattered.
My question is: Why did Michele Bachmann get passed over in the sequence of surges? And my answer is that once people saw what her husband Marcus was like, they excluded her from consideration. For a female candidate, the spousal question is quite complicated. We expect the candidate herself to live up to some of the expectations we have — consciously or unconsciously — of the wives of male candidates. But what of the husband? Who will be the first First Gentleman in history? What's he supposed to be like? The role needs to be invented. And it couldn't be invented with the raw material that is Marcus Bachmann. Once people noticed him and tried to imagine him as the first First Gentleman, they ceased to conceive of her as a possible President.
If you don't remember how Marcus Bachmann burst into the national consciousness, refresh your recollection: