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And whatever it is that a tea partyer might not like about Palin, Bachmann’s got that covered, too. Want a candidate who can rattle off her reading list without embarrassing the ticket? “When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. ‘I’m also an Art Laffer fiend — we’re very close,’ she adds. ‘And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,’ getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like ‘Human Action’ and ‘Bureaucracy.’ ‘When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.’” Want a true believer who seems interested in winning the election rather than just carrying the torch? “We’ve got a huge messaging problem [on Medicare]. It needs to be called the 55-and-Under Plan. I can’t tell you the number of 78-year-old women who think we’re going to pull the rug out from under them.”

Bachmann is a better politician than Palin, a better policy wonk than Palin, and because she’s a better politician and a better policy wonk than Palin, she’s actually able to be a bit more extreme than Palin, as Palin rarely gets specific enough to do such precise ideological positioning. Put simply, Bachmann is the candidate Palin was supposed to be.

Incidentally, I don’t put Palin and Bachmann into competition because they’re the two women in the Republican field. I put them in competition because they’re the two candidates who can plausibly consolidate the tea party wing of the GOP behind them. The only other obvious contender for that crown is Herman Cain, and I’m not ready to take him seriously yet. My hunch right now is that Palin either won’t run or will seriously underperform expectations, and either way, Bachmann will quickly emerge as the acknowledged leader of Tea Party America. Which isn’t to say she’ll win the nomination. I’m still looking to Romney or Pawlenty for that, with an eye on whether Paul Ryan runs, which I’ve long thought is more likely than people realize.