The Week in 2012

HOWARD MEGDAL: To me, the question of whether a challenge to Mitt Romney would emerge from the conservative GOP base- a strong majority of the primary voters, don’t forget-wasn’t much of a question.

But it is perhaps revelatory to some to see what kind of paper tiger Romney is in this party, just as some were surprised just how quickly Charlie Crist went from way ahead to way behind in Florida’s GOP Senate primary.

This party is not your father’s GOP, or even your slightly older brother’s GOP. Already, Michele Bachmann is within striking distance of Mitt Romney-not in Iowa, which some people are trying to write off ahead of time, but in New Hampshire.

More interesting still is that Bachmann and Sarah Palin combined outpoll Romney already. That’s without any of the damage opponents can inflict on Romney.

And yes, I am aware that Bachmann and Palin are not the same individual. But where do you think Palin voters are going if Palin doesn’t run?

Really, the danger to Bachmann isn’t Romney, but Palin or Rick Perry coming in and upsetting the surprising cohesion the right already has around a single candidate.

The majority of the party is bigger than ever- and has a single candidate. But Romney is the frontrunner? Not at the moment, he isn’t.

CHRIS PUMMER: The Bachmann bubble has a lot of air in it right now. But the media is only just now going to work at puncturing it with some of the more bizarre tales of the Minnesota congresswoman’s political career.

Contrast that to the other announced or suspected candidates. Romney has been blasted since his last run at the presidency, yet still polls at the front of the pack. Tim Pawlenty — though considered by few to still be a top-tier contender — currently has the biggest share of the spotlight with Minnesota’s government shut down as a result of mismanagement under his governance.

Palin’s candidacy has been doomed for a long time now by the unrelenting criticism from most corners that has been fueled every time she opens her mouth in front of a camera or microphone.

Even Herman Cain, a politician vaguely known even among likely GOP primary voters, saw his brief momentum after the first Republican presidential debate derailed when the only fiery rhetorical flourish he could unleash in the next debate was aimed right at Muslim Americans. Instead of building more support for his fledgeling national political brand, he unleashed criticism that he was xenophobic, prejudiced and maybe worst of all for the chattering class that actually tunes in to these debates, just not ready for prime time politics.

For Bachmann, this may be an inevitability. Beyond the expectation that more gaffes will follow her John Wayne Gacy-gate, the narrative has already taken shape that Barack Obama will sleep easier if Bachmann is his competition on a November ballot. Which really, he should.

What Bachmann has done is establish a lower floor than Pawlenty, Cain or Newt Gingrich have established. Should Palin and Perry both enter the race, her support isn’t likely to completely vanish.

In that sense, her foothold in this race might ultimately give Romney more security. Could one of Perry, Palin and Bachmann push the other two aside to build a coalition big enough to overcome Romney, especially in the early-voting states?

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