The coming battle: Bachmann vs. Perry

If former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin opted in, watching her and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota tangle would be worth the price of admission. That bout is unlikely to materialize, but a Perry-Bachmann fight for supremacy among social conservatives and tea party Republicans would also be entertaining. Both have the potential to raise a lot of money, motivate armies of passionate conservatives, and run no-holds-barred campaigns aimed at the two-thirds of Republicans who prefer their politics unvarnished and undiluted. Even though Bachmann and Perry would be going after the same market, that hard-core space in the GOP is large enough to prolong the fight for a while.

The potential for Perry and Bachmann to suck all the conservative oxygen out of the campaign is great, and their rivals for the right side of the GOP bracket, such as businessman Herman Cain and former Sen. Rick Santorum, will have to fight for attention. Just as the battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008 left their nomination rivals gasping for air and attention, a Bachmann-Perry duel could have the same effect in the more conservative and larger of the two GOP tournament brackets. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson will have their own competition for the narrow but vocal libertarian faction of the party, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich will have to deal with the perception that he is running against himself–and losing.