Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign was already moving in the wrong direction. A major staff shake-up makes matters much worse.

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign is undergoing significant staffing changes, with campaign manager Ed Rollins taking on a reduced role and deputy campaign manager David Polyansky departing.

Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Bachmann (R-Minn.), confirmed the departures late Monday. Rollins, whose decision was first reported by Politico, told The Washington Post he was too old to deal with the campaign grind. […]

Polyansky’s departure will raise questions about whether the changes represent a strategic shake-up for a campaign that has taken a back seat in the race since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered and Bachmann won the Ames straw poll three weeks ago.

It didn’t help that Rollins candidly conceded, “The Perry-Romney race is now the story, with us the third candidate.”

Looking back at recent cycles, campaign shake-ups do not always spell doom. In early 2003, Howard Dean changed campaign managers, and several months later, his campaign caught fire. In early 2007, John McCain lost many top aides, and he went on to win the Republican nomination.

But the context matters. For one thing, Bachmann has long been seen as an unelectable nut pretending to be a major presidential candidate. Having a top-tier campaign staff lent her effort an air of credibility — she couldn’t be too ridiculous, the argument went, if Ed Rollins signed on with her — but with Bachmann’s top two aides now departing unexpectedly, that standing is vanishing.

For another, while candidates like Dean and McCain recovered from staff shake-ups, their changes happened earlier in the cycle. The Iowa caucuses are in five months — a contest Bachmann intended to win — and it’s not at all a good time to lose a campaign manager and deputy campaign manager.

The Republican establishment has already relegated Bachmann to afterthought status, and the loss of her top two staffers will reinforce the impression she’s flailing.

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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.