Michele Bachmann addresses CPAC U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Do Republicans really want to improve their image and convince voters that they aren’t a bunch of kooks? Yes, there are plenty of long-term projects that might help with that. But the easiest first step would be to marginalize the fringe.

There’s nothing particular inherent in either conservative thought or the Republican Party that attracts crazies, but the flat-out truth over the last twenty or thirty years is that Democrats have been much more aggressive in policing their own. Which brings us to Michele Bachmann, who, after speaking at CPAC on Friday, has not only earned four Pinnocchios two days running from Glenn Kessler, but who drove Kessler to say today that “there really aren’t enough Pinocchios for such misleading use of statistics in a major speech.”

Do we expect any major Republican to push back? To mention that maybe it doesn’t help the party to make up stuff and pass it off as “facts”? To suggest that Bachmann doesn’t represent the party, or that real conservatives care about facts, and the nonsense she peddles is false? To push for her to lose TV slots, speaking opportunities at conservative conferences, and other high-visibility appearances?

Of course not. Republican politicians are terrified of being called RINOs; Fox News and others in the conservative partisan press welcome this stuff.

The only time Republicans have condemned their own has been when a huge media flap makes someone an immediate embarrassment — Todd Akin, for example — and even then plenty of Republicans can be counted on to defend against supposed liberal media smears, or to support the person but not the statement, or to lie low and wait until it goes away. All of which creates the impression that Republicans would much rather enjoy the (dubious) benefits of misinformation about Obamaphones and death panels and on and on and on, even if it means endorsing liars.

If you act that way, you get the reputation that goes with it. Change your act, and your reputation can change. If the GOP really cares about their image, they’ll start taking aim at their fringes, and not let up until it’s clear they’ve decided to be a responsible political party again.