Michele Bachmann may be leaving Congress, but it's unlikely she'll let herself be forgotten. As one of the most recognizable—and loudest—voices of the tea party, she'll have a glide path from firebrand public official to handsomely paid pundit when she retires at the end of this term.
Indeed, it's an increasingly well-worn path as pols with relatively thin political careers—a couple of House terms or a stint in the governor's mansion—have increasingly gone on to publish books, host TV shows, and develop a robust, and sometimes lucrative, public persona.
It used to be that members of Congress used their decades on the Hill and vast political networks to land well-paid lobbying jobs. But with an explosion of media hungry for new, and often ideological, content, experience is no longer a prerequisite to finding high-profile, high-paying jobs after leaving office.
In her retirement announcement Wednesday, the Minnesota Republican left the door open to remaining in the public spotlight, saying, "After the completion of my term, my future is full. It is limitless, and my passions for America will remain."
And Bachmann, both a product of and ambassador to the tea party, fits the mold of conservative commentator well.
"Many Republicans thought that she was not going to run last time and that she would cash in her conservative credentials in order to make money from her tea-party connections just like Sarah Palin did," said GOP consultant Ron Bonjean. "Now she's going to be able to do just that. This is not the last we're going to see from Bachmann. She's going to be as high-profile as ever if she chooses to do so. She's a political player that can't stand staying out of the spotlight."
After her failed vice presidential run, Palin quit the governorship halfway through her first term to deliver paid speeches, write books, and appear on television. She even had her own reality TV show.
Bachmann's four terms in the House certainly trump Palin's more limited experience, and Bachmann has a solid base on which to build a future platform. Her presidential campaign raised $10 million, half of which came from small donors. And she was one of the top five House fundraisers in the first three months of this year, according to CQ Roll Call Political Moneyline. Of course, she may also have to tap that donor base to defray any legal expenses resulting from investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and other agencies into her presidential campaign.
Bachmann's timing may also be good. Last year, Bachmann beat her Democratic opponent by less than 5,000 votes and it was a race Democrats had targeted again in 2014. By announcing her retirement now, she is leaving on her own terms.
That's a marked contrast to Allen West, the one-term Florida congressman, who drew heavy media coverage as a tough-talking Republican. West, who lost his reelection race last year, made his name by saying some Democrats are Communist Party members, calling Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "vile," and making other inflammatory statements. Now, the anti-Washington West is back in town starring in his own online show.
Less bombastic, but more successful, is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who parlayed his ill-fated presidential run into a media empire that includes books and his own TV and radio shows.
But whatever Bachmann decides to do in her next act, Republicans expect that after six months spent in relative silence, she'll soon start banging the drum and shaking the money tree.
As Bonjean put it, "She'll probably start putting out lightening-rod statements rather soon in order to stay afloat."
This article appears in the May 30, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.