But having her [Bachmann] in the race might well be helpful to Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Mitch Daniels, and other comparatively mainstream Republicans. If they can resist the lure of moving right to compete for her base, which would backfire, she’ll serve as a lightning rod and make them more appealing to general election voters. ~James Joyner
I agree that Bachmann’s candidacy will be helpful to Romney, but for the other two there is a danger that she will generate more enthusiasm among actual caucus-goers and voters than either of them. They may not have to worry about general election voters. She often polls just ahead of both of them, she is more widely known because of her frequent appearances on cable news shows, she has been speaking to Tea Party and other activist groups for the better part of two years, and she has one of the greatest Gallup “positive intensity” ratings of any candidate in the field. If many Republican elites are eager for a Daniels run, and if some conservative pundits regularly tout Daniels and Pawlenty as the best candidates, relatively few Republicans nationwide know who Daniels and Pawlenty are, and they don’t inspire enormous enthusiasm. Bachmann will also have the luxury of being a candidate on the right with no realistic chance at the nomination, which allows her to make more direct appeals to conservative voters that the “serious” candidates won’t be able to match. The problem this creates for Pawlenty and Daniels is that the natural anti-Romney constituencies are the conservative voters interested in uncompromising, fiery rhetoric, and these are not voters that Pawlenty and Daniels obviously attract.
What is the central argument for Pawlenty’s campaign? Essentially, it is an appeal to electability without too much baggage from major policy compromises. He is a somewhat less heterodox Republican than Romney, but like Romney he has proven that he can win elections in a traditionally Democratic state. The central argument for a Daniels candidacy is that he is outspoken on debt and entitlements, and he has developed a reputation as a fiscal conservative while in Indiana that lends him some authority as the candidate to address fiscal issues. These are plausible and reasonable, and my guess is that they also strike most casual observers of politics as very boring. The added problem is that both Pawlenty and Daniels hardly have reputations for generating excitement or interest. Both of them are obliged to run insurgent campaigns against the de facto front-runner in Romney, but neither of them seems very credible as an insurgent candidate.
Bachmann can outflank them both on fiscal and social issues (unlike Pawlenty, she was against the TARP), and she has greater credibility with pro-life and Tea Party activists than either one. She happens to be the only candidate apart from Ron Paul and Gary Johnson clearly opposed to the Libyan folly. Bachmann can appeal to evangelicals as “one of them” at least as well as any of the other candidates, and she can use the fact that mainstream journalists and pundits dismiss or mock her as part of her “populist” appeal. Other than Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, Bachmann becomes an obvious non-Romney figure on the right to support, and that likely comes at the expense of Pawlenty and Daniels*.
* All of this takes for granted that Gingrich has already destroyed whatever chance he may have had to make a competitive showing in the race.