Is it remotely possible that Michele Bachmann could win the GOP nomination? Sure. Has anything every happened that would indicate she is a viable candidate? No.
I hate to keep writing this, but normally perfectly sane people -- such as, this time, Jonathan Chait -- drag me back into it. Chait's post is a nice one at demonstrating just where the flaw are in people's thinking about the nomination process.
Here's Chait's case. He's previously decided that Mitt Romney can't be nominated, because of health care (and I suppose religion and abortion. He's also decided that Haley Barbour shouldn't be taken seriously because, well, he's southern and a lobbyist and all that. This has led Chait to settle on Tim Pawlenty as the likely nominee, at least should the field look more or less how it looks now.
But here comes Bachmann, and she could win in Iowa. If so, wouldn't that (as Josh Marshall claims) knock Pawlenty out? And absent Pawlenty, no matter what GOP leaders think, perhaps Bachmann could run the table just as Howard Dean almost did in 2004, if he hadn't imploded, as Chait says, just before Iowa.
Now, I really don't want to pick on Chait, and I want to be fair: he's hardly predicting that Bachmann will win, just that she shouldn't be totally written off. But as I said, I think there's a lot of stuff in his post that's widely shared.
So how strong is his case? It's full of holes.
First: Chait's case is pretty much entirely built on the idea that only Pawlenty has a real chance of winning support from "both the activist base and the party elites." He could be right -- but then again, that logic would have disqualified not only nominee John McCain last time around, but also runners-up Romney and Huck.
But if Chait is correct about Romney (and Barbour) -- that they will be completely rejected by GOP voters -- then it can't also be correct that Pawlenty can be knocked out by Iowa. After all, in the unlikely event that Bachmann does win Iowa, someone has to finish second, right? A Bachmann-Pawlenty exacta doesn't hurt Pawlenty nearly as much as it hurts every other candidate who couldn't beat either of them, and makes Pawlenty the consensus mainstream candidate going forward. Indeed, I think the same would be true, say, of a Bachmann-Paul-Pawlenty trifecta.
If, on the other hand, Pawlenty finishes back in the pack, then that means someone else has become the top candidate in the mainstream category, whether it's Romney, or Barbour, or someone else. The key here is that if it's Romney or Barbour, then Chait is basically proven wrong that Republican voters won't support that candidate.
Either way, someone is going to come out of Iowa as a viable mainstream candidate. Probably two someones, in fact. Even if Bachmann does manage to win there.
But really, I think the key to this is to go back to Chait's believe that Howard Dean would have won in 2004 but for a pre-Iowa implosion. I do think that by fall 2003, many Democratic leaders started wondering if, perhaps, Dean held some sort of magic that might help defeat George W. Bush. However, as Chait said, others remained quite hostile. That's the context in which Dean "imploded." The key here is that all gaffes are not alike; a gaffe is amplified or not by party elites and partisan media. When Dean made mistakes, they were fully amplified, finally reaching the point in which even non-mistakes were amplified.
Bachmann isn't going to convince GOP leaders that she has access to any special magic, and she certainly isn't going to go through a bunch of debates and other appearances without making mistakes. When she does, and party leaders believe that she needs to be taken down, she will be taken down.
One more point...it's important, when thinking about this stuff, not to think too narrowly about party leaders. Chait notes some failures by party leaders -- the effort to impose Wes Clark on the Democrats is one, and he could have added the Fred Thompson fiasco in 2008 for the GOP. But in those cases it was only a subset of party leaders acting. It's hard to see anyone in the GOP leadership, at least outside of its media wing, that would have any interest in having Michele Bachmann as nominee.
Could she win anyway? Well, in politics, you hate to say 100%. What I can say is that there's no precedent under the current system for a junior Member of the House to even be a halfway viable candidate -- and no precedent for someone as far off the party reservation to capture its most important prize. It isn't gonna happen.