Predictable, but nonetheless interesting for two reasons. One: Would Mitt have dared to do this had Palin not jumped in to endorse McCain first? Romney’s wary of antagonizing tea partiers who are already leery of RomneyCare; he won’t be their candidate of choice in 2012, but if he stays friendly with them, he can count on most turning out for the general election. Absent Palin, he’d be called a dirty RINO for this endorsement, but thanks to her he’s on “true conservative” terra firma.

Two: If Palin does run in 2012 and if, as expected, the race turn into a centrist elitist/righty populist armageddon between Mitt and her, whom will Maverick side with? Today’s endorsement makes that decision marginally harder.

“For years, I’ve been an admirer of John McCain,” Romney said in a statement this morning. “Then we became competitors. Today, I’m proud to call him my friend.”

Romney also said, “It’s hard to imagine the United States Senate without John McCain,” and added that the country needed McCain in troubling times.

“I am constantly reassured by Senator McCain’s continued involvement in the affairs of our nation, and I am honored to support him,” Romney said.

“Governor Romney is among the brightest and most dynamic leaders in our Party, and I am proud to have his support,” McCain said. “I look forward to working with him to advance our shared vision for a stronger, safer and more prosperous America.”

Speaking of centrism versus righty populism, we all knew that Maverick would eventually hit Hayworth for his flirtation with Birthers, but I’m surprised it’s started this early. Probably smart to do so, though: Narratives take time to build and stick, as the results of the CPAC straw poll illustrate only too well.

“Equal justice under law: Doesn’t that include this president and his birth certificate?” Hayworth asked on the July 15 show, according to a recording the McCain campaign is sending to reporters.

“Mr. Hayworth can run from his record, but he can’t hide,” McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers said of the clip. “We welcome Mr. Hayworth attempting to shift positions on this issue, but he can’t obscure his real record as he backtracks. Facts are stubborn things, JD.”…

“As a talk show host, it was J.D.’s job to provoke discussion, including on this issue since people were calling in about it,” said Jason Rose, Hayworth’s senior advisor. “Questions were asked when that topic was in the news. Those questions have been answered to the satisfaction of jd and most of america. The issue is closed.”

Rose also pointed to comments attributed to McCain in “Game Change,” a best-seller about the ’08 campaign in which the GOP nominee lambasts his fellow GOPers. “Frankly, I think Senator McCain’s birthing of profane and outrageous comments about Republicans in ‘Game Change’ are far more interesting,” Rose said.

That would be these comments, I take it. Exit question: Did McCain move to soon in hitting him on Birtherism? If he had waited until the end of the race to bring it up, he would have looked desperate (especially if it was close), but by pushing it out there now, I wonder how long it’ll take for people to get bored with it to the point where it loses its sting. Especially since Hayworth is already backing away.