Yesterday, the New York Times profiled Michele Bachmann , who is pulling a Mike Huckabee and whipping up the wingnuts in Iowa for what could likely be a successful bid to win the primary in that state before flaming out rapidly when Republican voters in other states realize they really can't run someone who would never garner a single swing vote. Of course, the problem with Bachmann playing the Huckabee role this time is that Huckabee is also trying to play that role, as he knows from experience that being the far-right fantasy candidate translates into years of book sales and lucrative TV contracts. The new rule seems to be no one ever went broke overestimating the desire for embittered conservatives to be told that they represent Real America.
Of course, the problem with this for Republicans is that white suburban evangelicals who stay up at nights worrying about the increasing diversity and tolerance in America can't actually be treated as representative. They simply don't have a majority (which explains the bitterness). Having a presidential candidate who can be read as not-a-wingnut by the Beltway press and by swing voters is still a priority for Republicans, and so the actual candidate will almost surely be Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney. That said, far-right candidates can do a lot of damage to the eventual nominee by forcing him into a situation where he has to sign off on truly wingnutty ideas in order to get enough base voters to support him to tie up the nomination with speed. The eventual candidate has much to worry about this year, because not only does he have Bachmann and Huckabee thumping the Bible in ways that don't sit well with swing voters- Huckabee even fantasized about religious indoctrination at gunpoint in a recent speech-but he also has the looming problem of birtherism to contend with.
As Asher Smith pointed out at the Huffington Post, Donald Trump has put the other nominees is a tough spot when it comes to the far-right fantasy that Barack Obama isn't really a native born citizen. Most Republicans would benefit mainly from refusing to discuss the issue, so as not to offend either the 41 percent of Republicans who are birthers or the rest of the voters who don't cotton to that level of crazy. But now that the issue is out on the table, the odds that it's going to come up in debates or interviews have gone up dramatically, and it's going to be incredibly hard for would-be nominees not to cross someone, no matter how gingerly they address the issue.