Michele Bachmann already had a great line of attack to steal back Rick Perry's Tea Party support--that the Texas governor's order mandating vaccinations for human papillomavirus in public schools was a violation of parental consent and general liberty. Bachmann used the attack to get some of her old spark back at Monday night's Tea Party debate. But the congresswoman, basking in the debate afterglow, promptly went off the deep end by claiming that Perry's mandated vaccine was bad because it causes mental retardation. That's a widespread fear with no scientific backup.

During Monday's debate, Bachmann was forceful:

I'm a mom.  And I'm a mom of three children.  And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest.
 
Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan. They don't get a do-over. The parents don't get a do-over. ...
 
I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. That's what I'm offended for.
Slightly creepy imagery of a rapist state government aside, Bachmann was still in safe territory--the vaccine in question, Gardisil, has been linked to blood clots and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. And she seemed to have the audience on her side. It was in this post-debate interview with Fox that the congresswoman strayed:
 

"There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate," Bachmann said. "She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences." And Bachmann reiterated the claim Tuesday morning on the Today show:
 

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"I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate," Bachmann said. "She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying what she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions."
 
The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership quickly rebutted the claim, with its spokesman Evan Siegfried telling Politico's Ben Smith, "Congresswoman Bachmann's decision to spread fear of vaccines is dangerous and irresponsible... There is zero credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause mental retardation or autism."
 
The persistent conspiracy theory puts Bachmann in unusual company--the likes of actress Jenny McCarthy and the Huffington Post. And that is company many conservatives do not want to keep. Conservative blogger Ben Domenech called it "Captain Insane-o territory" and wondered what Bachmann might think of the measles, mumps, and reubella shot too. "The most charitable analysis," Hot Air's Ed Morrissey says, is that Bachmann "got duped into repeating a vaccine-scare urban legend on national television." Slublog tweets, "Yeah, fantastic. Let's become the Jenny McCarthy party."