This is one of those rumors, I think, that starts hopping simply because it makes sense, not because there’s any hard evidence to support it. Although there is plenty of circumstantial evidence: Richardson was just in Pyongyang to sound out North Korea about its nuclear program; he was a leading candidate for SoS back in 2008 before Hillary got the job; he has foreign policy experience, having served as Clinton’s ambassador to the UN in the 1990s; his term as governor of New Mexico ends in a week; and, of course, there’s been lots of buzz lately about The One shaking up his staff, with Axelrod and Bob Gates sure to depart this year and Gibbs likely to go too. Hillary and Gates also work famously well together, so maybe Obama’s thinking that if he’s leaving soon, it’s best to just replace the whole team and bring in a new SecDef and SecState all at once. And don’t forget that Richardson threw Obama a major bone by endorsing him in March 2008, a betrayal that stunned Team Clinton. The One owes him.

Even so, it’s inconceivable that they’d force Hillary out given the ever so slight possibility of a primary challenge in 2012. If she’s leaving, they’ll want her to leave on good terms. Which means either (a) Hillary’s already told them to start looking for a replacement, in which case maybe the North Korea trip was Richardson’s audition, or (b) she’s not going anywhere, in which case tapping Richardson for the North Korea trip was … an odd choice given the likelihood that it would kickstart rumors like these. Interestingly, the White House has denied that they approved Richardson’s trip — even though he himself insists that they did. Maybe they’re worried about perceptions that Hillary’s role has been usurped by a prominent rival (that’s been a recurring concern over the past two years), or maybe they simply don’t want North Korea to enjoy the prestige that comes with receiving a White House envoy. Or, just maybe, they’re worried about rumors like this and don’t want to deal with the headache of denying them, which will spark yet another endless round of “Obama vs. Hillary” drama in the media. Fun stuff for a slow news day, though!

Two clips for you, the first via Breitbart and the second via Mediaite. A memory-jogging fact about our would-be Secretary of State: Richardson’s big foreign policy idea while running for president was total withdrawal from Iraq ASAP, a proposal he was pushing just as the surge was revving up on the ground. We’re in good hands, my friends.