While we've all been distracted by Rupert and the overblown "debt ceiling crisis," a fascinating thing has been happening in the Republican race for the 2012 presidential race. The knives are out!
For President Obama? Not really...well, not yet (that's coming, of course,) No, I mean the knives are out for Michele Bachmann, and the clues are many.
The most obvious tell was the report earlier this week that Bachmann -- who has surged from nowhere to leading one-time front-runner Mitt Romney in polls in Iowa and even one national poll (though not in others) -- suffers from severe migraine headaches, sometime incapacitating, which could make her health into a campaign issue. That story didn't come from some liberal blog or even the "lamestream media," but a conservative website, the Daily Caller, and it was sourced from Republicans who once worked for Bachmann and no longer do, but who are presumably still active in the party.
That's not all. Conservative Internet ringmaster Matt Drudge -- who's been accused in the past of close ties to the Romney campaign -- is currently running a couple of stories hyping a possible candidacy by Texas governor Rick Perry. Why the Perry boomlet all of a sudden?
Here's the deal -- it should be pretty obvious that the GOP traditional establishment, including big donors and the folks who used to be power brokers before the arrival of talk radio and the Tea Party, really, really wants Romney to get the nomination. He's the only one who could appeal to enough moderates to give the GOP its best chance of beating Obama. In fact, if joblessness stays this high I think Romney would be a clear November 2012 front-runner, while I think Obama could beat a candidate like Bachmann -- with her, um, colorful past -- even if the vote took place on a mile-long unemployment line.
The problem is that enthusiasm for Romney among the people who vote in GOP primaries -- dominated by the party's right flank -- remains low and seems to have a ceiling; very few polls have shown the former Massachusetts governor with more than 25 percent of Republicans. So Romney is political dead meat if the Tea Party rallies behind one candidate, such as Bachmann. But early polls suggest that Romney stays in front if both Bachmann and Perry are in the race, especially with some right-wing voters locked into other candidates like Ron Paul and Herman Cain. Thus, the insiders want to a) knock Bachmann down a peg or two and b) fragment the Tea Party vote into as many slices as they can.
And the GOP establishment is still holding onto to its secret weapon...Sarah Palin. At this stage of the game, the Palin brand is far too tarnished (check out the numbers, or "numbers" for her movie "The Undefeated") for her to possibly win the nomination. But a Palin campaign would still take enough votes from Bachmann and from Perry to guarantee the Romney victory that the insiders crave.
So how's that for irony? A year ago, Palin was the GOP elite's worst nightmare. Now, I wonder how many are whispering in her ear: Run, Sarah, run!