Skip ahead to 5:20 of the audio. Usually I toss Brooks’s stuff out there because I know our commenters have fun ripping on it, but this time — what if he’s right? Two other righty bloggers floated T-Paw’s name to me on Twitter last night as an acceptable “none of the above” choice in the field. If you’re looking for a baggage-free nominee whose blankness will turn the election into a pure referendum on Hopenchange, it makes good sense. In fact, to Brooks’s point I’d add that if it does come down to Romney and Pawlenty, Pawlenty’s probably the nominee, no? Just as he’d be “Not Obama” in the general, he’d end up being “Not Mitt” in the primary. If you hate ObamaCare and therefore hate RomneyCare, the choice is clear. Which, of course, is why National Journal calls Romney the frontrunner whom nobody thinks will win.

One question, though. How exactly does the race get whittled down to Romney and Pawlenty? Huck would have to not run, Palin would have to flame out, and Gingrich would have to disappear. Brooks thinks those first two are likely but I’m hazy on why he thinks Republican voters will prefer T-Paw to Newt. Some will because of Gingrich’s personal baggage and others because they consider him a relic of another age, but his name recognition is higher and he’s better on the stump (in my opinion) than Pawlenty. And no one disputes that he’s smart as a whip; if you want someone to go to toe-to-toe with The One, why not Newt instead of the who-the-hell-is-he candidate? (Incidentally, as Nate Silver explains, Gingrich’s own unlikely path to the nomination requires a heavily diminished field.) Exit quotation from Brooks on Gingrich: “Do not let that man near a management job.”