On CNN yesterday, Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins, who recently joined Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn..) team, defended the likely GOP presidential candidate’s credentials.

“…I think the key thing here is she — if she does become a candidate, which I think she will, she will have a good team around her and will basically make sure that everything is fact checked and obviously she’s smart, she’s on the intelligence committee, you know, so she can talk about a lot of different things.”

Republicans realize that being on the Intelligence Committee does not make someone intelligent, right? They know “intelligence,” in this committee context, relates to reviewing materials and documents related to national security, don’t they?

Regardless, now that the right-wing Minnesotan is poised to actually go through with this plan for a presidential campaign, there’s renewed discussion about whether Bachmann has a legitimate shot at the nomination. Jon Chait has been making the case for a while that it’s a mistake to dismiss her chances entirely.

Chait’s not the only credible observer making the argument. Paul Waldman said Bachmann brings ideas that “are radical nearly to the point of being nuts,” but added she’ll probably be surprisingly “formidable” in the Republican primaries.

If all you knew about her was the Saturday Night Live caricature, you might think she was just an incompetent airhead. But Bachmann does some important things very well. She may not be all that eloquent, but she is extremely articulate — she can get up and without notes give a seamless extemporaneous speech that tickles every conservative tender spot, with anti-government bromides, shots at European social democracy, and shout-outs to the Declaration of Independence (that’s the one that mentions a Creator, don’cha know). […]

It’s true that Bachmann’s hard-right ideology and her immersion in the Tea Party’s particular blend of tics and peeves narrow her appeal to those already on the right. But she can work that wing like few others…. Bachmann is no policy genius, but she knows how to read a crowd, and she understands the conservative voters all the candidates are trying desperately to woo.

Suzy Khimm is thinking along the same lines.

For what it’s worth, Waldman’s case is entirely sound, as are Khimm’s and Chait’s. But I still can’t bring myself to see Bachmann as anything but a joke who would struggle badly to compete nationwide.

Her principal problem is, to put it gently, she’s stark raving mad. Even in a radicalized party and the most extreme House majority caucus in generations, Bachmann stands out as one of Congress’ most loony-tunes members.

I won’t deny that this is likely to help Bachmann with many equally-unhinged Republican voters, but I also believe the party desperately wants to win in 2012. Even the most wild-eyed Tea Party fanatic understands, at a certain level, that the American mainstream is far more likely to laugh at Michele Bachmann than vote for her.

Regardless, she’s clearly running, and we’ll see soon enough whether the Republican base is really that far gone.

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.