Does the slate of surviving Republican presidential choices in this primary mean that the Tea Party’s strength has been overrated — or just directed elsewhere? The Daily Caller has a clip from a fascinating discussion between Laura Ingraham and George Will from ABC’s This Week: Green Room over what a Mitt Romney nomination would mean:

“They don’t have the power that they thought they had, perhaps,” Ingraham said. “I mean, Romney is not a tea party candidate, and they’re talking about 27 percent of the Republican Party that still believe it’s tea party infused. The tea party, they have a lot of energy but you know … more of a moderate view of conservatism seems to get nominated every time. And that’s just a fact. The tea party doesn’t have the great strength that the old media believe.”

Washington Post columnist George Will didn’t completely agree that the tea party has lost it’s strength. He suggested that Romney pick a tea party running mate, and said the grassroots should focus on winning in the Senate until they have stronger national candidates.

“It’s too soon to say that,” Will said. “If the tea party withdraws its enthusiasm and says we’re going to concentrate on carrying the Senate and fight again when our bench is stronger in 2016 … I think [Romney’s] going to want a running mate who can connect with the people he can’t, and that is the Republican base.”

I wrote about this less than two weeks ago, although it seems like an age now. In my column for The Week, I pointed out that lasting grassroots movements take years to work their way into the leadership of major parties and produce credible candidates for high office. I’d call the 2010 midterms a big success and a huge head start, but it’s far too early to have a ready-made Tea Party candidate that can win election at this juncture. Look for 2016 or 2020, depending on the outcome of this election, for that kind of impact.

In that sense, I agree with both Ingraham and Will. I disagree with Will on his prescription for Tea Party support and for running-mate strategy:

“In 2010, the Republican Party got 63 percent of the votes of whites without college educations,” Will continued. “That is the Republican base and that is exactly the base he can’t connect with. This is the case for Chris Christie.”

Will isn’t alone in making this suggestion, either:

If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, my model estimates that he is 25 percent likely to pick Chris Christie as his running mate, a popular moderate governor from New Jersey who himself flirted with running for president before strongly endorsing Romney. (This in spite of the fact that you’d have two Northeasterners on the ticket.) The market puts Christie’s overall chance of being the VP of any Republican nominee at only 14 percent, but because his odds tend to rise in tandem with Romney’s, my model boosts his chances to 25 percent in the scenario where Romney is the nominee. Rubio is a close second to be Romney’s right-hand man at 22 percent. Rubio’s VP odds actually drop whenever Romney’s go up (they are anti-correlated), but because Rubio’s such a likely overall pick, he’s still the second-most likely Romney pairing. Rubio so far hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate and has repeatedly said he’s not interested in the VP job. No other candidate rises above single digits as Mitt’s pick for a-heartbeat-away.

If Gingrich wins the Republican primary, he’s most likely, at 30 percent, to pair up with Rubio. Christie virtually falls out of the running for VP at below 5 percent if Gingrich emerges the primary winner. Over the past 90 days, when Gingrich rose in the presidential market, Rubio tended to rise too and Christie tended to fall in the vice presidential market.

Tea Party adherents may admire Christie’s passion and bluntness, but they’re not going to like some of his political positions. Christie didn’t win statewide in New Jersey by being a rock-ribbed conservative. He’s as conservative as one is likely to find in that position in New Jersey, but he’s hardly the kind of laissez-faire moderately-libertarian activist that populates the Tea Party. That doesn’t mean Christie doesn’t have a future in the GOP either, but pairing Romney with another Northeastern Republican, even one as pugnacious as Christie, is not a recipe for exciting the base.

If Romney wins, I’d look for a call to Marco Rubio (although I think it would be a mistake for Rubio to agree), or perhaps Susannah Martinez in New Mexico, who has been governor for about the same amount of time Rubio has been Senator. I think it’s more likely to be Bobby Jindal, though, who has a record of reform and a solid base of support from conservatives, plus is a current Southern governor on his second term. It’s a stronger position for a ticket that would put itself as an outsider pairing coming to take on Washington DC and the corruption of crony capitalism.