Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann is the quintessential model for the enduring question the left has about the right: are these folks liars or fools?

It’s tempting to hope for the former. When dealing with public officials in positions of authority, one wants to believe they’re competent and in touch with reality, and when they say ridiculous things, it’s just politics. They know the difference between fact and fiction, but they have voters to impress, elections to win, etc.

But Bachmann sure does seem to believe her own rhetoric. Here’s what she had to say in last night’s debate about raising the debt ceiling.

“[W]e should not have increased the debt ceiling. In the last two months, I was leading on the issue of not increasing the debt ceiling. That turned out to be the right answer.”

Fox News’ Bret Baier followed up, asking, “[W]hat do you say to the analysts who say that the markets would have fallen through the basement?” Bachmann replied:

“I think we just heard from Standard & Poor’s. When they dropped our credit rating, what they said is, we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them.”

This isn’t even close to reality. Bachmann has been working on this issue for months, and has touted her opposition to raising the debt limit in every campaign appearance she’s made, but she still has a child-like understanding of the basics, and seems to have manufactured her own alternative universe.

S&P did not, under circumstances, say that the United States lacks the ability to repay our debt. The voices in Bachmann’s head may say that, but S&P actually said the opposite: the nation has more than enough resources to repay our debts, but the rating agency is concerned our political process is so badly broken, we may lack the will to repay our debts.

In our reality, nothing contributed more to the downgrade than the approach adopted by Michele Bachmann and people who share her truly ridiculous worldview.

This morning, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, reflecting on Bachmann’s debate performance, said anyone who believes Bachmann has a legitimate shot at the presidency is “too stupid to prognosticate and too stupid to run Slurpee machines,” adding, “Michele Bachmann is a joke…. Her candidacy is a joke.” Scarborough then delivered a message to Iowa: “If you let her win, you prove your irrelevance once again.”

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Around the same time as Scarborough’s well-justified rant, the Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza told readers, “Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) faced her first major test as the Iowa frontrunner at Thursday’s debate, and with just two days to go before the Ames Straw Poll, she came out of it with some battle scars but still retaining her frontrunner status.”

Because in a Republican nominating contest, sanity is optional.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.