Too good to check: Pawlenty staffers reaching out to Chris Christie to run?

It’s not going to happen but I’m intrigued by all the rumblings about it lately. Remember Jonathan Alter’s scoop a few days ago about Christie conducting presidential focus groups, which he quickly walked back? The day before that, Karl Rove hinted that Christie (and Paul Ryan) might be rethinking their opposition to running due to all the encouragement they’ve been getting. Now here’s the Daily Caller with an oddly detailed piece about survivors from the wreck of the S.S. T-Paw hoping to get picked up by Christie. Sure is a lot of smoke coming from somewhere. Who’s stoking this fire?

Key staffers who formerly made up the Pawlenty campaign have been in discussions with Christie all week and the talks are still ongoing, sources told TheDC. They are reportedly very anxious to have Christie officially place his hat in the ring. At one point, there was discussion of Christie flying to Texas at the beginning of the week; he ultimately nixed that plan.

The sources also said that in the midst of back-and-forth discussions this week, Pawlenty staffers resisted an overture from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is also rumored to be considering a bid, because they want Christie to run…

Christie adviser Michael DuHaime told TheDC, “They are not discussing it with me, and I would be the one they would need to discuss something with.” When pressed further, DuHaime confirmed that a call took place between Pawlenty and Christie on Sunday. DuHaime called the conversation a “condolence call to a friend. Nothing more than that.”

Note: “Sources.” Plural. Not just some random staffer running his mouth. Neil King of the Wall Street Journal tweeted after the Caller’s story broke that “Top Christie advisors have told ex-Pawlenty bundlers & others: He is not running, yet chatter persists.” I believe him, but I wonder if that’s quite as firm today as it was six months ago. Question: Which dark horse would stand a better chance of winning the nomination if he jumped in, Christie or Ryan? Ross Douthat thinks Christie would because of his executive experience, his alpha-male persona, and the fact that he lacks any major Medicare baggage like Ryan does. Fair points, but (a) he’s got only two years of executive experience, a fact that Palin’s detractors routinely throw in her face; (b) now that Perry’s in, a second alpha male playing tough guy on the stump might wear thin; and (c) Christie himself has been so gung ho about entitlement reform that he once semi-jokingly threatened to campaign against Republicans who refuse to pursue it. (Here’s the video. You’ll see it again in attacks ads if he runs.)

Christie has liabilities that Ryan doesn’t too. Granted, Ryan voted for TARP, but he’s been such a warrior on the debt that he’s largely immune from criticism that he’s fiscally irresponsible. Christie, meanwhile, endorsed Mike Castle in the Delaware primary (RINO!), he criticized conservatives on the Ground Zero mosque; he’s been a bit vague on immigration (although that’s less of a liability now that Perry’s in the race); and then there’s this whole business. He’s been dismissive of Palin at times too, which to a certain segment of the base is the surest litmus test of a RINO. Long story short, he’s more likely by far to be branded too squishy than Perry, Palin, or Bachmann is. There are really only two reasons to prefer him. One: He beat the public-employee unions in Jersey on pension reform, which is a major achievement for a newbie governor — but still wasn’t enough to prevent the state from being downgraded by Fitch. That’s not Christie’s fault (unlike Scott Walker, he’s working with a Democratic legislature), but it is what it is. Two: He’s a superb messenger on entrenched liberal interests like unions and entitlements — the best the GOP currently has, I think, including Ryan. But is that enough of a reason to nominate him? It’s crucial to remember that the wider electorate’s top priority is not entitlement reform, as urgent as that is. It’s jobs. What’s Christie’s argument on that when forced to contrast his record with, say, Rick Perry’s?

I do think he’d be slightly more likely to win the nomination than Ryan is, but only because I can imagine his blunt talk on budgets playing better in New Hampshire than Ryan’s wonkery. A late entrant into the race would have to capture voters’ imaginations quickly. Christie, with his YouTube-ready rants, is a pro at it. Here he is from a few days ago, in fact, not quite in rant mode but needling Obama anyway on “leading from behind.” Close your eyes and it sounds like something from a stump speech.

Update: George Will on why Christie won’t run:

He relishes being America’s Caesar — its most powerful governor. He wields a line-item veto, he can revise spending numbers but only down (he blocked $1.3 billion in spending this year) and he can exercise a “conditional veto,” rewriting legislation and sending it back to the Legislature for approval. The governor and the lieutenant governor, who run in tandem, are the only state officials elected statewide. The governor appoints the attorney general, treasurer, comptroller, all judges and all county prosecutors…

But he has four children, ages 8 to 17, he will not abandon for presidential politics. When he visited a workaholic aide during her difficult labor before her daughter was born, he said, “Put away your BlackBerry, you are in the middle of a miracle.” As subtle as a linebacker, as direct as an uppercut, Christie, explaining why he will not run, demonstrates why many wish he would. When supporters argue, “You can’t say you’re not ready — look at Obama,” he replies: “Yeah, look at him.”