Are you ready for President Scarborough?

Oh, come on. The conservative base would never allow the GOP to nominate someone so famously moderate. Except this year, I mean. And in 2008. And 1996, 1992, 1988. And come to think of it, Dubya wasn’t exactly a tea partier either.

Three words, my friends: Scarborough/Huntsman 2016?

First, Joe flirted with the idea of running against Barack Obama. An ex–Florida congressman and a moderate Republican, he conferred with fellow centrists just before the primaries, occasionally shuttling around with his friend Mike Bloomberg…

And just to raise the temperature a tad? After the presidential inauguration in January, Joe (no fan of Mitt Romney’s—”I’ve been very critical”) plans on publishing a memoir that will serve—no joke—as a vehicle to test the waters for a presidential run in 2016. Take that, Mr. Romney.

All a big misunderstanding, said Scarborough to Politico. The interview for this Vanity Fair piece was, allegedly, conducted in 2010(!); the “testing the waters” stuff was a reference to 2012, and he ultimately decided against testing them. I kind of believe him too, just because the field of candidates this year was so thin and the potential field in 2016 or 2020 so strong that it’d be crazy to have passed on a run now in hopes of trying later. Against Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, Scarborough could have tried to fill the Huntsman role of “more moderate than Mitt” with some Contract With America cred and media savvy. He wouldn’t have won (unless Mike Bloomberg gave his Super PAC a few hundred million dollars), but he would have raised his profile and the profile of the No Labels crowd a bunch. Against Rubio, Ryan, Christie, Jindal, and maybe Jeb Bush, he’d just be the guy from MSNBC who used to be a congressman or something. No chance of it happening. Or is there?

Still, while Scarborough said he had no plans to run for president at the moment, he did not rule out the possibility that he might change his mind before 2016.

“I’ve got no plans to run in 2016, or in 2020. But you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Every two years, there’s someone suggesting that I run for Senate. Every two years, the national party comes to me. I’ve always been really flattered. But I look around, and I have the best job in the world. I have no desire to leave.”

The conventional wisdom is that if Romney loses, the base will demand a truly conservative nominee next time after riding two squishes to bitter defeats against O. The thing is, as noted up top, the base typically doesn’t decide who wins. If there’s a fight on the right among Rubio et al. to be the “conservative choice” next time, does that leave a huge space on the center-right for Jeb Bush or some other Scarborough-esque moderate to clean up? Chris Matthews is kidding himself if he thinks losing to O will destroy the right, but I do think you’ll see some strategic concessions in the next cycle depending upon what happens this fall. The GOP won’t back away from fiscal conservatism — budgetary math simply won’t allow it — but if O wins narrowly on the strength of Latino voters, some form of amnesty will get a fresh look. (And don’t think Jeb, in particular, doesn’t know it.) The alternative is that no serious moderates run next time and the GOP does at last get a solidly conservative nominee, but in that case we’ll have to endure endless agonizing months of media hyperventilation over a third-party run by Bloomberg himself or some other well-known moderate (Huntsman?) backed by major Super PAC money. Not sure if there are enough No Labels billionaires out there to keep things competitive when rich Republicans and Democrats will be pouring money into their sides’ respective Super PACs, but if you want a thumbnail sketch of Election 2016 or 2020, there you go. Just imagine the debates: Hillary for the Democrats, Rubio for the GOP, and a guy whose signature issue is banning Big Gulps for No Labels. *Sad trombone*