Jonathan Chait, a Bachmann optimist (that is, he thinks she's a very viable candidate), notes that "many" Bachmann pessimists underestimate her based on a misunderstanding of the current GOP:
The skepticism about Bachmann's prospects reflects an antiquated assumption that there's a natural ceiling within the GOP on the support base of a hard-core religious conservative. Yet both the movement and the party have changed in ways that make that less and less true.I agree with that part of that; I disagreed with those who didn't take the Huck seriously on similar grounds. Very solid support from Christian conservatives is a strong plus, not a ceiling, in the Republican Party. Christian conservatives are mainstream movement conservatives, not weird freaks.
And yet even within that, Bachmann isn't just a run-of-the-mill conservative, either in actions or in reputation. That's too some extent reflected in her voting in the House (she ranked 407th on a liberal-to-conservative scale of Members of the House in the 111th Congress, and 409th in the 110th Congress). It's also reflected in her back-catalog of Greatest Hits crazy-sounding statements. Even if what she's said makes perfect sense to many rank-and-file primary voters, that's not apt to help her should she be nominated -- and therefore, those Republicans who want a strong November candidate are apt to strongly oppose her.
My own Bachmann pessimism is based on both the electoral self-interest of those Republicans who want to win, and on the general structural disadvantages of running from the House. Well, those things, and also that in my view, in the current Republican Party, movement conservatives don't have to go to a candidate perceived as an extremist to find someone who supports them on at least most of their issues.
That latter point is pretty important. In 1964, the difference for conservatives between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller was enormous (and the difference between Rockefeller and Lyndon Johnson not all that great); under those circumstances, accepting a smaller chance of victory in November in exchange for ideological purity was a reasonable bargain. In 2012, the difference between Bachmann and, say, Mitt Romney is small -- and the difference between Romney and Barack Obama is large. If they are convinced that Bachmann would be a poor candidate in the fall, even very conservative Republicans may choose Romney (or, even more likely, Tim Pawlenty or Rick Perry).