Some presidential candidates who fail to get their party's nomination come out of the process elevated -- witness Mike Huckabee, who had no national presence prior to the 2008 election and thereafter became one of the most visible conservatives in the nation. Others end up shrinking in stature -- Fred Thompson (who I like very much) was supposed to be the conservative white knight four years ago; now he's a guy who pitches reverse mortgages on daytime TV ads. In both of those cases, a serious bid for the presidency recalibrated the candidate's career.
What is particularly strange about the 2012 cycle, however, is how many candidates seem to have gotten into this race primarily for reasons other than seeking the presidency. Herman Cain -- who seemed intent on creating a media career similar to Huckabee's -- regularly interrupted his campaign for stints on the paid lecture circuit or events to hawk his new book. Newt Gingrich was also peddling his wares in the form of books and movies (though, to be fair, Gingrich began running a more serious campaign as his poll numbers rose, while Cain never made the adjustment). Needless to say, Donald Trump's interest in the future of the nation also seems to wax and wane based on the broadcast schedule of "Celebrity Apprentice" and his book release dates.
The most bizarre version of this trend may be Michele Bachmann, who certainly took her candidacy seriously at the beginning. That calculation may have changed over time, however, according to her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins. Here's the relevant blurb from Politico:
She repeatedly passed up opportunities to ding Mitt Romney in the debates — a product, Rollins said, of preserving her options for sharing a ticket with him. “There was some talk early on between her and her husband that she could end up as the vice presidential nominee,” Rollins said.
This is, in a word, delusional. On what basis would Bachmann be chosen as the running mate? Bringing Romney the much-coveted vote of Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District? She has conservative bona fides to be sure, but so do many other potential running mates who don't share her reputation for volatility (a trait sure to be a disqualification with the antiseptic Romney team). Her gender? If Romney wants a woman on the ticket who has a shot at bringing some electoral real estate with her, New Mexico's Hispanic Governor Susana Martinez will be at the top of the list.
More troubling than the political miscalculation, however, is the dereliction of duty. Bachmann has repeatedly presented herself throughout this campaign as the principled, uncompromising representative of conservatism in the race. Now we learn that, in a cycle where conservatives have had deep-seated and sustained concerns about the Republican front-runner, she intentionally helped him avoid scrutiny from exactly the constituency she claims to represent.
If she had wanted to avoid personal attacks, fine. But giving Romney a pass on substance is a bridge too far. If Bachmann was intent on running for the number two spot, she should have ceased offering herself as a candidate for the number one spot. The conservative movement -- and the presidential race -- deserved better than someone who was willing to pull their punches for personal gain.