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'Emotional,' 'implusive' Bachmann erred on vaccine issue, ex-aides say

September 15, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau
  • Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann addresses the media during a campaign stop in Arizona on Wednesday.
Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann addresses the media during a… (Paul Connors / Associated…)

Add Michele Bachmann's former campaign manager to those who believe the presidential candidate went too far in linking a cervical cancer vaccine to mental retardation.

Ed Rollins, in an interview Wednesday evening on MSNBC, said Bachmann’s attacks on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s mandatory vaccination program for young girls in Texas had been effective -- until she brought up the possibility of “dangerous side effects” in television interviews.

“She’d had been better if she stayed on issue,” Rollins told Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” the issue was the governor’s executive orders, and whether he made a mistake. He made a mistake, she made a mistake; the quicker she admits she made a mistake, the better.”

There is no proven scientific evidence to support the claim that Bachmann repeated on Fox News and NBC -- and her remarks earned her the scorn of conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh. On Wednesday, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee weighed on his radio show, saying

“She landed some hard blows on Perry over his aborted cervical cancer vaccine program in Texas. But she went a little too far afterward in saying that a woman told her that her daughter developed mental retardation after getting that vaccine. That raised a howl of protest from doctors who've been piling up stacks of research showing no links between vaccinations and serious brain problems”

In trying to explain her actions, Bachmann told Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am not a physician. All I was doing was reporting what this woman was reporting last night at the debate.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics said there is "absolutely no scientific validity" to the claim that the HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation.

"Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record," the academy said. Health professionals recommend that young girls be vaccinated against the virus and many states, such as Virginia, have programs similar to the one that was ultimately aborted in Texas by the Legislature.

Initially, Bachmann’s attacks over the program, especially Perry’s use of an executive order to make it mandatory for 11- and 12-year-old girls in Texas and his ties to drug maker Merck, seemed effective -- and they gave the candidate an increasingly rare moment in which she seized the spotlight from Perry and Mitt Romney.

But Rollins, who left Bachmann’s campaign earlier this month, suggested that the gain was fleeting once Bachmann brought up the health issue.  Bachmann, he said, “has made what was a very positive debate and made the issue about Perry to where it’s now an issue about her.”

And it was misstep that a candidate with Bachmann’s sometimes-erratic record on the trail could seemingly ill afford to make. The Minnesota congresswoman last month suggested that God was punishing Washington for excessive spending by sending an earthquake and a hurricane (Her campaign later said she was joking), noted the “rise of the Soviet Union” 20 years after that regime collapsed, confused Elvis Presley's birthday with the anniversary of his death, erred on the location of John Wayne’s birthplace in Iowa, and claimed the famous Revolutionary War battle at Lexington and Concord had been fought in New Hampshire.

On more substantive matters, Bachmann last month claimed that the downgrade of America’s credit rating by Standard and Poor’s proved she was right to oppose raising the federal debt ceiling, when the agency cited opposition such as hers as a leading factor in its downgrade decision. And last year, before she became a presidential candidate, she falsely claimed that President Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day.

Rollins attempted to explain the vaccine affair away in part by saying Bachmann was an “emotional person who basically has great feeling for people.” On CNN Wednesday evening, Ron Carey, Bachmann’s former chief of staff, called her “impulsive.”

“She reads an awful lot of information, but sometimes I’m afraid that she reads maybe 80 or 90 percent and leaves out or forgets the 10 or 20 percent that can change the outcome, “ Carey said. “So her impulsive nature coupled with the fact that she sometimes doesn’t digest information as carefully as she should leads to these kinds of impulsive statements that sometimes are just off the mark enough that it makes her into more of a provocative, controversial figure.”

The vaccine debacle has forced Bachmann to regroup -- yet again -- she prepares for next week’s Republican debate in Orlando, Fla. And she’ll do it without Rollins, who made it clear that he has little to do with the campaign as it goes forward.

“Two weeks ago I made every decision,” Rollins said. “Today, I make no decisions.”

Asked by Matthews whether he wanted to see Bachmann become president, Rollins seemed to demur.

“I think she’s evolved. I think she will evolve,” he said.

“You’re hedging,” Matthews replied.

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