Joke or Not, Bachmann's Irene Comment Damaging

Joke or not, God comment illustrates her polarizing nature

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God gets dragged into politics so often, it's a shame the Almighty can't be reached for comment.

But since God remains quiet, it's easy for political figures to ascribe particular views to the deity, and potentially shoot themselves in the foot in the process. The most recent example is Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, who told a crowd in Sarasota, Fla., "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending." It was a simple off-the-cuff remark, but Bachmann's Irene comment is yet another symbol of her polarizing political nature—at exactly the time that she can't afford to be polarizing.

[Read 4 Ways Rick Perry threatens Bachmann's candidacy]

The comment has been widely repeated and dissected, even mocked by some observers, including U.S. News's own Robert Schlesinger. As Politico's Alexander Burns notes, attributing natural disasters to a displeased God can seem extreme. For its part, the Bachmann campaign is now stressing that the comment was "in jest."

Jest or not, says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, the statement is divisive, reassuring current Bachmann supporters of her religious faith but winning her few new backers. "She's walking a fine line between stoking her base of support in face of a challenge from [Texas Gov.] Perry and maintaining credibility and building credibility," says Jacobs, who adds that the comment "feeds questions about whether she's serious enough to do the job" of being president. At this point, he says, she cannot simply hold on to her loyal base; she must build a coalition that goes beyond stalwart social conservatives and evangelical Christians.

[See how Democrats are trying to undermine Rick Perry.]

But Bachmann is far too strong a politician to sustain significant damage from making an inartful joke, says Jacobs. Congress' return after Labor Day will give Bachmann plenty of time to shine on the national political scene. Being able to directly affect legislation from within the Washington machinery that she so often decries is an advantage that Bachmann shares with only two other Republican candidates: libertarian favorite Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter, who barely registers on many polls.

Given her rapid rise from state senator to leading presidential candidate, Jacobs says that Bachmann has proven herself a to be a formidable fighter in the political arena. "I would not rule out Bachmann. I can't tell you how many times I've seen her written off," he says.

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