For a few weeks in 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann was on top of the GOP, having chased Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty from the GOP presidential field and racing to the front of the pack.
But Mrs. Bachmann eventually came crashing back down to earth and on Wednesday she announced that she would not seek re-election to Congress — ending an astonishing political career that captured the roiling politics of the last four years.
“I think it is a mistake to see her as simply a kind of fleeting figure,” said Larry Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota. “She reflects an era and a kind of moment in American politics that shows the tensions with the Republican Party between Liberty Republicans and more establishment Republicans willing to compromise.
“It also shows the limits and the inability of the tea party to find a popular platform that could win majorities, and that is what happened to Michelle Bachmann.”
Mrs. Bachmann announced her decision via an eight-minute video on her campaign website, saying she wasn’t swayed by polls showing her in a tight re-match race in 2014 against Democrat Jim Graves, who she narrowly defeated just six months ago.
“I have every confidence that if I ran, I would again defeat the individual who I defeated last year, who recently announced he is once again running,” she said in her video.
The Tea Party Express, which bills itself as the nation’s largest tea party political action committee, praised Mrs. Bachmann, 57, as “strong advocate” for the grass-roots movement’s push for “fiscal responsibility and limited government.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, said that the “Tea Party brand of extremism and obstruction have infected the entire Republican Congress, and her influence shows no signs of waning.”
A proud social conservative, Mrs. Bachmann made an immediate splash in the GOP presidential race by winning the Iowa straw poll in the summer of 2011, boosting her as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Six months later, though, voters had turned. She placed sixth in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out of the race with her campaign more than $1 million in debt.
“Electability is always an important issue to caucusgoers in both parties and she had difficulty passing that threshold,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois.
Mrs. Bachmann instead ran for her House seat again, winning re-election but keeping a lower profile on Capitol Hill, where she has been dogged by investigations into whether her presidential campaign violated finance laws.
But in recent days she had shown signs of getting her grove back. Last month, she revived the House Tea Party Caucus, and she also led a news conference this month protesting the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups — an event that drew Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
That same day she also saw the House pass her bill to repeal “Obamacare,” and had begun running campaign ads touting the vote.
Mr. Jacobs said that the timing of Mrs. Bachmann’s announcement suggests there could be more bad news to come for the congresswoman.
“There was every sign of a Bachmann revival effort and to all of a sudden pull the plug on running re-election after putting in the time and money and making the political commitment, tells me that there is another shoe to drop,” Mr. Jacobs said.
William McGinley, the lawyer representing Mrs. Bachmann, has said that she will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Mrs. Bachmann also addressed the allegations in her announcement, saying “this decision was not impacted in any way the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign, or my former presidential staff.”