Michele Bachmann, fortified by two strong performances in the two most recent debates, kinda shares victory with Ron Paul, but will win the headlines nonetheless. I suspected she'd win because she is almost perfect for the kind of Republican you find in Iowa's base: a native of the state, a hard-core anti-gay Christianist, and a big believer that the US should have defaulted on its debts, rather than raise any taxes at all (even while lowering marginal rates).
She is to the right what … well it's hard to come up with a viable politician among the Democrats who can even begin to match her ideological extremism. Maybe if someone actually wanted fully socialized medicine on the British model, top tax rates at 98 percent, and affirmative action for gays in Hollywood. Ron Paul, meanwhile, the man who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and end the neo-empire, comes a very close second. In other words, the Republican most forceful about non-interventionism in the debate crushed the candidate most enthusiastic about interventionism, Rick Santorum.
Pawlenty has proven he's simply out of his depth here. He's neither insane enough to capture the fevered soul of the current GOP; nor charismatic enough to win them over with star power. Bachmann has two out of two. Ron Paul is just, well, Ron Paul. T-Paw picked a fight with Bachmann here and she chewed him up and spat him out. Put a fork in his campaign.
By the way, I don't buy the idea that Palin is now in deep trouble. Palin has a cult-following that will only chart a different course if Queen Esther instructs them to. Perry is the one now in trouble. He's in trouble because however red the meat he wants to throw at the base, Bachmann's is always redder. She is the rawest of the right, which means she can punch above her weight in these purity tests. A Perry-Palin debate match-up would flummox him, I think. And buttress her. He can't out-macho here, risks seeming very good ol' boy next to her, and got in late.
It's all silly speculation; but then so is this straw poll. But the other candidates muct now be looking at Pawlenty and wondering: "Could she do the same to me?"
(Photo: Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), her husband Marcus Bachmann and some of their children wave to supporters as confetti rains down in her tent outside the Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University August 13, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. Nine GOP presidential candidates are competing for votes in the Iowa Straw Poll, an important step for gaining momentum in a crowded field of hopefuls. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)