At Religion Dispatches today, Sarah Posner looks at the quagmire into which Rep. Michelle Bachmann seems to be sinking in her efforts to smear a State Department staffer and asks if it’s finally “the end” for the zany Minnesotan.

No question she’s been making a fool of herself in a way that is reminiscent of her tenacious and self-destructive pursuit in the fall of 2011 of the specious claim that the HPV vaccine Gardasil was linked to mental retardation. Now that her Islamophobic crusade against Huma Abadin has been denounced by Sen. John McCain and deplored by Speaker John Boehner, her career has clearly taken a turn for the worse.

But let’s not confuse her ability to embarrass GOP elites with any idea that she’s suddenly gone off the deep end, or is fundamentally too nuts to represent big elements of the conservative activist “base” of the GOP. Bachmann has been “out there” for years, making outrageous statements almost daily and embodying a brand of Christian Nationalism that is never more than a few steps away from hate-group ravings.

And moreover, even as her 2012 presidential campaign was imploding, Republican grassroots activists just plained liked her. I went back today and looked at a PPP survey done on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses, when Bachmann’s presidential bid was on life support (she would finish sixth in the Caucuses and drop out of the race the next day). She had the second best favorable/unfavorable ratings of any of the candidates (52/37, as opposed to Mitt Romney’s 48/44). The only candidate exceeding her popularity among the very-well informed Iowa GOP caucus-goers was Rick Santorum–you know, the guy who made news today by tweeting that John Sununu probably shouldn’t have apologized for saying the President of the United States needed to “learn how to be an American.”

Bachmann may have finally gone too far, but let’s not overinterpret her problems as indicating some sudden radicalism on her part, or some sudden moderation among conservatives.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.