GOP LEADERS HOPE TO KEEP BACHMANN OUT…. The incoming House Republican majority has four leadership positions to fill, and three will probably be filled pretty easily. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will be Speaker, Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will be Majority Leader, and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is, at least for now, the only candidate for Majority Whip.

The party wisely hopes to avoid any contentious intra-party disputes, and smooth sailing for the leadership posts should help the new majority get off on the right foot.

But then there’s that other leadership position. (via Matt Finkelstein)

The often fiery and always unpredictable [Michele] Bachmann, a tea party favorite, is trying to make a contest out of the battle for the Republican Conference chairmanship, a job that is critical for setting the party’s message and is seen as a steppingstone to higher leadership positions.

The favorite is Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and top Republicans are making it clear that he is the insider’s choice. Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and outgoing Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana already have endorsed Hensarling, sending a clear message that if Bachmann wants the job, she’s going to have to run an insurgent race for it.

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that part of me has always wondered, “GOP leaders realize Bachmann’s a lunatic, right?” With Cantor and Pence quickly throwing their support to Bachmann’s rival, I have a hunch we know the answer.

The second reason, though, is that it’s not entirely clear who’ll win this showdown. There are about five dozen GOP freshmen on the way, and they’re all pretty far out there on an ideological limb. Few feel especially indebted to the party’s establishment, and they may very well think Bachmann is a brilliant Republican leader.

Would the caucus actually vote to make this deranged lawmaker a member of the House leadership, or would the new GOP majority thumb its nose at a Tea Party hero?

We should see the leadership elections during the lame-duck session. Something to keep an eye on.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.