Andrea Mitchell enticed Ed Rollins to go on a tear yesterday, ripping Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whose campaign he previous ran, as well as Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

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Not only does he tell us that Bachmann is essentially toast if she doesn’t win Iowa, but he hints that “coming out of the House of Representatives” she hadn't really been prepared for the media scrutiny of a presidential contest. He deemed the ferocious criticism of her “absolutely fair criticism.”

Rollins, not willing merely to undermine his own candidate, also went after Perry, suggesting there are “a lot of things that went on” in Texas and promising that instances of cronyism will be revealed as time goes on. He’s only a bit kinder to Mitt Romney, saying “he’s made the evolution slow but sure to [being] more conservative, to fit the primary voters.

Is there some method to his spasm of criticism or is this simply Rollins popping off? Well, he may join the long list of ex-Bachmann aides who left her employ with a bad taste in his mouth. And certainly explaining her weaknesses deflects blame from him.

But Rollins, despite taking the Bachmann gig, has always been an establishment Republican. He now appears to be offering himself as the town crier, attempting to warn the Republican voters of the dangers that lie ahead in electing either of the candidates who shoot from the hip.

As my colleague Michael Gerson writes today, Republicans may be looking for a reassuring standard bearer:

Within the Republican Party, primary voters have a history of preferring less ideologically vivid, more electable candidates. Iowa caucus-goers — disproportionately religious and conservative since the late 1980s — do their best to change this habit. But they seldom pick the eventual winner in contested races. The party faithful may flirt with Phil Gramm or Pat Buchanan, but they typically end up at the altar with George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole. Goldwater was the great exception — a grand ideological romance that was eventually consummated. But his selection was made in a time of economic optimism — with unemployment about 5 percent and falling — and not in a sobering period of economic hardship.

None of these historical precedents make Romney a shoo-in. But they indicate his prospects are better than his current polling. Perry is a perfect candidate for a time of Tea Party anger — say, around 2010. But Romney has a better case in a time of economic fear — like the one we may be entering — when competence becomes a desperate political demand. In this case, Republicans may choose, once again, not the purist they love but the old hand they trust.

It’s not clear that a majority of GOP primary voters agree with either Rollins or Michael. But a Romney advisor may have been right earlier in the summer that Perry’s best day would be the on one which he announced. Since then he’s helped crush Bachmann, but he hasn’t won over the skeptics. Romney may be the beneficiary of this, or Perry’s shortcomings may induce another Republican to get into the race. Stay tuned.