WASHINGTON -- Ed Rollins, the former campaign manager for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), strongly criticized the presidential candidate's comments earlier this week that a vaccine once mandated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry might cause "mental retardation" in children.
"She made a mistake. The quicker she admits she made a mistake and moves on, the better she is," Rollins said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday.
"Ms. Bachmann's an emotional person who basically has great feeling for people. I think that's what she was trying to project. Obviously it would have been better if she had stayed on the issue," he said.
Rollins admitted that Bachmann has taken what was a hugely positive issue for her and at the least tainted it, allowing Perry to escape the full brunt of scrutiny he would have otherwise borne.
"I think the bottom line here is she has made what was a very positive debate and made the issue about Perry to where it's now an issue about her, and she needs to move on," Rollins said.
A Bachmann spokeswoman has not responded to emails or phone calls.
Bachmann made her comment moments after Monday night's Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., in which she scored points on Perry by attacking him for his 2007 attempt to implement a mandatory vaccination against the human papillomavirus for sixth-grade girls in Texas.
Appearing on Fox News after the debate, Bachmann recounted a conversation with a woman in the audience.
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine,” Bachmann said. “She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”
Perry said Wednesday morning that Bachmann's comment "had no truth in it, no basis in fact."
Rollins stepped down as Bachmann's campaign manager on Sept. 5 and took on the role of senior adviser. He attended the Sept. 7 California debate with Bachmann and spoke to reporters on her behalf afterward.
But Rollins' description of his role fits more that of an independent adviser rather than a campaign insider.
"I'm available if she needs to call me and ask me for anything," he told MSNBC's Chris Matthews."Two weeks ago I made every decision. Today I make no decisions."
And strangely, Rollins refused to answer Matthews' repeated questions about whether he wants Bachmann to win the presidency. Matthews asked Rollins five separate times but could not elicit a straight answer.
"You're hedging," Matthews said on his fourth try. "Would you like to see her commander in chief of the United States?"
"When she's elected president, she'll be commander in chief and she'll do a good job," Rollins replied.
"Would you like her to be commander in chief?" Matthews asked again.
"I have no question that she could be a very tough commander in chief," Rollins said. When Matthews noted, laughing, that Rollins was "slippery," Rollins retorted, "You got as much as you're gonna get."
In a separate phone interview with The Huffington Post earlier in the day, Rollins argued that Bachmann's comments about "mental retardation" were a "non-issue."
"I wish she hadn't said it," Rollins said. "At the end of the day she was repeating what somebody told her. But that's not the issue. The issue is that as governor you make a decision for somebody else's children."
Watch the MSNBC interview here: