Lots of 2012 posts today, I know, but ’tis the season. Daniels will make his call this week and then the only remaining question mark will be Palin, who may yet be months away from a decision. Which is to say, at least for the summer, the field will soon be set. (Or will it?) Much like trillion-dollar deficits and nine percent unemployment, from now on just think of 2012 posts as “the new normal.”

With Huck out, Iowa social cons need a champion. Enter the Bachmann:

Senior insiders to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann say the Republican founder of the House Tea Party caucus is now very likely to run for president.

In the wake of both Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump opting out of the 2012 race, calls to Bachmann’s offices “have been burning up our lines” according to a Bachmann confidant who marveled, “one guy called her our Margaret Thatcher!”

Bachmann has said before that she will likely make a decision by June. She unveiled a new website design Monday that highlights Team Bachmann rather than Congresswoman Bachmann.

Say it with me, veteran Hot Air readers: “You know who this helps? Mitt Romney.”

Like Bob Dole in 1996 or John McCain in 2008, Romney is an establishment-oriented candidate with serious vulnerabilities on his right flank. To get the nomination, he needs (as they needed) to prevent the emergence of a single candidate to his right. So Dole made a tactical alliance with Pat Buchanan in Lousiana, helping to eject from the race the one candidate who could theoretically have denied him the nomination by consolidating voters to his right: Phil Gramm. McCain made a tactical alliance with Mike Huckabee against the candidate against whom both of them were competing and whom both of them hated: Romney…

The candidate who could play the Buchanan/Huckabee role this time is Michele Bachmann. Like her ‘96 and ‘08 counterparts, she cannot win the nomination but can prevent anyone to the establishment candidate’s right from getting it either. (I think she has greater potential strength in the primaries than Santorum, but if he took off he could play the same role.) So watch for Romney to start making a lot of positive comments about Bachmann.

I don’t believe Romney could win a Romney-Pawlenty contest. But he would almost certainly win a Romney-Bachmann race, and could well win a Romney-Pawlenty-Bachmann race.

That’s Ramesh Ponnuru, making a point I’ve made before myself. Just one question: What’s in it for Bachmann? Why would she want to torpedo Pawlenty, whose only chance at the nomination likely requires winning Iowa? Yeah, they’re Minnesota “rivals,” but there’s no bitterness between them that I know of the way there was between Huckabee and Romney. My best guess is that it’s not about Pawlenty (or Palin) at all but about using a win in Iowa to boost her standing on the Hill, where the caucus often seems to treat her as a distraction. Three years ago, Huckabee was just some guy who’d governed Arkansas after Clinton; three years later, after winning Iowa, he’s poised to play social conservative kingmaker. Bachmann’s not going to win the nomination but she doesn’t need to in order to become a national figure.

Actually, another question. What makes anyone think Bachmann is the big beneficiary of Huckabee’s exit? All the buzz among the grassroots lately vis-a-vis current candidates is for Herman Cain. He won that Luntz focus group by a landslide a few weeks ago after the debate and he was the biggest gainer in this month’s HA online poll, far ahead of Bachmann. Nate Silver also pegged Cain as the guy who would most benefit from Huck’s departure. There’s every reason to think he’ll continue to do well at the debates too, especially in contrast with less dynamic frontrunners like Romney and Pawlenty. So why can’t Cain be this year’s Huckabee in Iowa?