But … why? Why would a guy who, as nominee, would need tea partiers to hold their noises and vote for him in the general pick a needless fight with a tea-party favorite? He’s already alienated libertarians with his shots at Rand Paul. Now he’s going to (further) alienate mainstream grassroots conservatives too?

Brawling with your would-be base is an especially bad idea for a guy known for hugging Obama a week before election day last year. The rap on centrist Republicans is that they’re more comfortable with Democrats than with right-wing Republicans. If you’re one of them, take care not to do anything that would lend credence to that unless you’re getting a big political benefit from it.

Palin is widely viewed by much of the party — with the exception of her core followers (and she does retain a real following) — as someone who is advocating a direction for the Republican party that could lead to its electoral demise in 2016 and perhaps beyond.

There is a sentiment — largely expressed privately, still, at the moment — that someone needs to stand up to that wing of the party and say “enough is enough.”…

It’s possible that a Christie denunciation of Palin would mean that the likes of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both of whom are considering running for president in 2016, jump to defend Palin — sensing a political opportunity. Maybe. But, our sense is that Cruz and Paul — and their political advisers — will likely steer clear from any too-close association with Palin since she has proven herself to be a sort of free radical in the political process.

And, even if Christie does take some heat from the right for saying something along the lines of “I believe Sarah Palin is a voice for shrinking the Republican party, not growing it”, the gains he would make among the GOP voters who don’t identify with Palin and her brand of confrontational conservatism would more than make up for it.

Why stop there? Denounce gay-marriage opponents too, as well as conservatives who are willing to risk a government shutdown over defunding ObamaCare. Cover the whole media wishlist of things that a “reasonable” Republican should be and do. Let’s alienate as many core constituencies as possible in order to really dazzle them, and centrist voters, with Christie’s boldness.

Besides, his whole tough-guy act is a double-edged sword potentially. Centrists who hate Palin would enjoy seeing him take shots at her — as he’s done before — but if he got into an extended exchange with her, the narrative would shift from “RINO charges!” to “Does Christie have the temperament to be president?” and “Why is Christie allowing himself to be baited?” If he runs, he’ll end up signaling in various subtle and less subtle ways that nominating him would mean repudiating the Cruz/Palin wing of the party. No need to make it more explicit than it has to be.

Via RCP, here’s Mark Levin vowing to do what he can to make sure Christie’s not the nominee. Exit question: If Christie is the nominee, what are the odds of a third-party candidacy from the right? Rand Paul won’t do it, I think, just because he’ll want to remain viable for the GOP nomination in 2020.