Earlier this month, while planning a press conference with other lawmakers and tea party leaders in response to the Internal Revenue Service's unfair targeting of conservatives, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin that she longed to travel and speak to tea party groups more often than she had been able to recently.
At the time, Martin didn't think much of Bachmann's comment, which she said was just made in passing. As planned, Martin joined Bachmann and other tea-party-friendly lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol building on May 16 to speak out against the federal tax collection agency's practices. The IRS controversy helped breathe some new life into the tea party movement by offering a fresh platform to rail against both its targeting of conservatives and its role in implementing the federal health care law.
Two weeks later, when Bachmann abruptly announced she would not seek re-election to her House seat, Martin suddenly remembered what Bachmann had told her. Perhaps she had been hinting at something?
"Maybe she couldn't engage in a full-blown campaign at home and also spread the message in the way she is able to around the country," Martin told Yahoo News in an interview. "And also at the same time fight the battles on Capitol Hill. There's only so much a single person can do."
From the onset of the movement, Bachmann was one of the tea party's most prominent champions in Washington. She co-founded the House Tea Party Caucus in July 2010, spoke at rallies for groups around the country, introduced a bill to repeal President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul immediately after it passed and embraced the tea party label during her short-lived run for president in 2012.
When Obama gave his first State of the Union address in 2011, Bachmann made waves by giving a televised "tea party response" in coordination with Tea Party Express. To many, she was (and is) the face of the tea party in the capital city.
Bachmann's decision to leave Congress came as an abrupt surprise to tea party coordinators, according to Martin and Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer, two leaders of tea party groups that have worked closely with Bachmann since the movement's early days during Obama's first term. Bachmann was traveling in Russia and out of pocket when her video announcing the decision was posted online on Wednesday morning, leaving tea party leaders to draw their own conclusions about the reason for her departure.
Tea party organizers said they were disappointed by Bachmann's move, but they say they hope she will continue working with them when she leaves office. They also expressed hope that she will seek office again soon by running for Senate or launching another bid for the presidency.
"We have not heard the last of her," Kremer told Yahoo News. "Just because she's not seeking re-election for her congressional seat doesn't mean she won't run for higher office at some point. I still think she has a platform."
Kremer was quick to add that as a movement established to function without an identifiable leader, she does not anticipate that Bachmann's departure will mean the end of the tea party.
"She's been a strong and vocal voice for us, but the tea party movement is so diverse and there are so many people involved with different local groups, different national groups. The tea party movement is not focused on any one individual or any one organization," Kremer said. "The tea party movement is what it is because of the people who are out there across the country, not because of any one leader, whether it is a leader of an organization or somebody in the halls of Congress."