Bachmann's poor timing was partly Sarah Palin's fault. Bachmann did not want to enter the race if Palin was, since they would simply split each other's vote and guarantee neither could win. Bachmann waited as long as possible, allowing Palin time to make up her mind. When it became clear Palin wasn't going to announce either way, Bachmann decided she had to enter the race anyway so she could attend the debate; Bachmann didn't want to give Herman Cain another opportunity to gather Tea Party support unopposed. This is precisely the sequence of events Elephant Watcher predicted a few weeks ago.
Bachmann will dedicate all of her attention to Iowa. If she loses there, her race is over. Bachmann will compete for the Tea Party vote, as her low perceived electability guarantees the establishment (and strategic voters) will not support her. As it becomes more clear that Palin will not run, Bachmann will compete against Cain.
As Bachmann demonstrated during yesterday's debate, she has the ability to sound like a reasonable, articulate candidate. She sounded more confident and informed than Cain did. However, Bachmann has not undertaken the gauntlet of TV interviews that Cain has. It remains to be seen whether Bachmann can emerge from hostile interviews unscathed. Her history suggests she will run into trouble, but sometimes candidates can become more skilled with practice.
There is still the Palin problem. Since Palin made no effort to attend the debates or prevent Bachmann from running, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Palin will run. But that doesn't mean Palin's fans will accept this fact right away. Palin supporters tend to be very loyal, and they won't jump into the Bachmann camp so easily. Bachmann is still in Palin's shadow, and Palin's fans may even begin to resent Bachmann for attempting to replace her.
If Bachmann is to succeed in Iowa, she'll need the full weight of the Tea Party behind her--including those who currently support either Palin or Cain. If Palin is willing to admit that she's not running, it will help Bachmann's coalition grow. Unfortunately for Bachmann, Palin follows Palin's schedule and no one else's.
As long as Bachmann avoids alienating Palin fans, she has plenty of opportunity to create a Tea Party coalition. Toward the end of this year, Tea Partiers in Iowa will make their final decision. Palin will have long since made the announcement she's not running (or it will simply be obviously too late). If Bachmann can prove she's the more serious candidate, she can defeat Cain and siphon his support. Barring a spectacular flame-out on Cain's part, she won't get all of his supporters on her side, but the Tea Party will coalesce around one or the other to maximize the chance of a Tea Party victory.
But it is not enough. Iowa winners need to prove they're electable. It's a long time between now and the Iowa Caucus. If Bachmann is to succeed, she must remain as disciplined and prepared during every public appearance as she was for the debate.
News posts related to Bachmann will have the Bachmann "tag". For detailed assessment of Bachmann's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view her Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Bachmann has a 1% chance of winning the nomination.