GUESS WHO ‘STOLE THE SHOW’ IN IOWA?…. Iowa will host dozens of “cattle call” events for 2012 Republican presidential candidates over the next several months, and the latest was yesterday’s gathering in Des Moines, hosted by far-right Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). Five likely aspirants showed up, and the receptions they received matter.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, and pizza-company owner Herman Cain were all on hand, and by all accounts, each delivered remarks that generated polite applause. But the Washington Post noted it was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) who “lit up the gathering.”

NBC’s First Read had a similar assessment, noting that of the five, only Bachmann was able to “fire up” attendees with “criticisms of the administration, an artful weaving of audience response, and backing up her points with a litany of ‘statistics.’” (The scare quotes were NBC’s, not mine, and a reminder that the congresswoman is prone to making stuff up.)

Politico‘s report from the event said Bachmann “stole the show” in Iowa.

Michele Bachmann served up red meat to the crowd at the Iowa conservative principles conference Saturday, slamming President Barack Obama as a Jimmy Carter retread, dissing the Mitch Daniels “truce” call for social issues, and saying she wants a “waiver” from the last two years of White House leadership.

Talking loudly and waving her hands, a pumped Bachmann used a slide presentation of various numbers — the national debt, the cost of a gallon of gas two years ago the day before Obama took office, the corporate tax rate — to make her points and pull the crowd in.

Suggesting that Iowa caucus voters had the power to halt Obama, Bachmann wrapped up her speech by asking, “Are you in? Are you in for 2012?”

“I agree with you!” she said as the crowd cheered, and added, “I’m in!”

You can watch the video — though I don’t recommend doing so on a full stomach — and you’ll notice that the Iowa crowd loved Bachmann’s nonsense, practically hanging on her every word.

In the context of the 2012 race, the next question is what kind of love we’re dealing with here. Are those right-wing activists enamored with Bachmann thinking, “I can’t wait to support her campaign” or are they thinking, “She’s terrific, but there’s no chance I’ll ever vote for her”?

Don’t assume the latter. Extremely conservative social activists tend to dominate the Iowa caucuses — radical televangelist Pat Robertson came in second in 1988, well ahead of Reagan’s sitting vice president — and may very well make Bachmann viable, at least in the first nominating contest.

Also note, the more the ridiculous congresswoman excites the base and makes bizarre remarks — yesterday Bachmann called the federal tax code a “weapon of mass destruction” — the more media attention she’ll take from other candidates who may find themselves struggling to stay in the spotlight.

If this isn’t making the GOP establishment — plus candidates like Pawlenty, Daniels, and Barbour — nervous, they’re not paying close enough attention.

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.