Michele Bachmann campaigns in Iowa. Supporters of her GOP bid for the presidency… (Scott Olson, Getty Images )
Reporting from Perry, Iowa — Michele Bachmann was laying out a tough immigration policy recently when she veered off script to make a point that she said underscored the national security implications of a porous border.
"Fifty-nine thousand this year came across the border, as was said in the introduction, from Yemen, from Syria. These are nations that are state sponsors of terror," the Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate said, citing a report she had heard. "They're coming into our country!"
There were two problems with Bachmann's passionate assertion. Yemen is not a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the State Department. And the Border Patrol report to which Bachmann referred said that although 59,000 apprehended illegal immigrants came from countries other than Mexico, only 663 had ties to countries with links to terrorism.
Voters here frequently say they are drawn to support Bachmann's presidential campaign by the litany of statistics and facts that stud her speeches. Yet what she says is often inaccurate, misleading or wildly untrue.
All politicians occasionally shade the facts to their advantage. The danger for Bachmann is that her misstatements are so pronounced and so numerous that they erode her effort to regain footing in the presidential race. (Asked for reaction, a campaign aide provided information unrelated to the statements in question.)
Some of her misstatements have registered as eye-rolling blips, such as when she confused actor John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy on the day she entered the campaign in June. Others have damaged her candidacy.
She won points in a September debate when she criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting a proposed requirement that young girls be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease. But then Bachmann told a post-debate television audience that the vaccine had caused mental retardation, a conclusion drawn from a brief meeting with a weeping mother. Bachmann's hit against Perry was lost in howls of dismay from physicians who said her untrue remarks would stunt vaccinations and endanger children.
On recent campaign swings through Iowa, she continued to trip over matters large and small.
In Sioux Center, Bachmann said high corporate taxes and crushing regulations had made the United States less competitive than other countries, a mantra common among GOP candidates. But then she went further.
"If you want to have a business in China today, if you want to build a building, you just build it, you don't go through all the permitting process that we do here," she said.
Businesses have to apply for multiple permits in China. A 2008 World Bank publication found that China was among the most difficult places anywhere to obtain construction permits, ranking 176th of 181. The publication ranked the best and worst places, and the United States fell in neither category.
At a rally in Denison, Bachmann touted her plan to slash federal taxes and implied that taxes are higher now than when she was young.
"How many of you think that the taxes are too high in the United States? We got any takers on that?" she said as the crowd roared in approval. "I grew up in this wonderful state and I'll tell you, the tax rate was completely different years ago from what it is now, wasn't it? They're very high."
In 2011, a married couple filing jointly would have paid 35% of their income in taxes if they made $379,150, the lowest income in the top bracket, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Fifty years ago, when Bachmann was a child, the same couple would have paid 59% in federal taxes. The lowest federal tax bracket today is half what it was then.
The candidate bases at least some of her assertions on obscure conspiracy theories.
In Estherville, after a supporter asked her position on the 2nd Amendment, Bachmann said she supported Americans' rights to own guns and that she had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
But then she added: "I don't believe in the U.N. taking that right away from us, as well. There are international treaties that want to do that."
The United Nations is drafting an arms treaty, but it is aimed at stemming illegal international gun sales. While many gun manufacturers are concerned that such a treaty could lead to broader gun registration, only a narrow fringe purports that Americans could see their guns taken away by the U.N., which has no authority over constitutional rights.
Bachmann's mistakes predate her entry into the presidential race. In November, she told a national television audience that a trip by President Obama to India cost $200 million a day. The report was based on an anonymous quotation in an Indian newspaper.
The White House does not release cost figures for security reasons, but people involved in travel by presidents from both political parties said the number was grossly exaggerated.
An embarrassing correction also marked a recent Bachmann move on Capitol Hill. This month, she introduced a bill requiring any woman considering an abortion to undergo an ultrasound that pinpoints the heartbeat of the fetus.
"A study by Focus on the Family found that when women who were undecided about having an abortion were shown an ultrasound image of the baby, 78% chose life," Bachmann said.
That prompted a news release from the conservative organization, which said that while it supported the legislation, it had produced no such report.
"We don't have any 'studies,' and we don't publish any percentages like that," Kelly Rosati, Focus on the Family's vice president of community outreach, said in a statement.
A Bachmann aide said the candidate got the statistic from a Des Moines clinic. The aide also cited a report that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News of Denver that cited a Focus on the Family statistician for a similar claim.