Really? He’s very shrewdly making hay of what many grassroots conservatives now view as a dispiriting betrayal, and the leadership (via surrogates) is not only outrageously outraged but willing to pick a very high profile fight with him over it? I was under the impression that these people are professional politicians. I stand corrected.

Alternate headline: “Tim Pawlenty receives biggest favor of his life.”

The Republican leadership was clearly annoyed by Pawlenty’s late push against the plan, which the House is expected to approve Thursday. A senior GOP aide told The Hill that Pawlenty “would be considered a Blue Dog Democrat” in the 112th Congress.

“A real profile in courage from Governor Pawlenty — who has no responsibilities but rattling off sound bites to appease the base,” the aide said. “In this Congress, Pawlenty would be considered a Blue Dog Democrat … that is, until he pretended to be something else. ”

A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said in response to Pawlenty’s critique: “The Speaker has always honored President Reagan’s ‘11th commandment.’”

What a wonderful world it would be if the Blue Dogs really did take the sort of hardcore line on meaningful cuts that Pawlenty’s demanding. In reality, they’re the people who made ObamaCare possible. And yet the caucus’s aides are whining at T-Paw for demanding an even leaner budget. If the GOP was serious about spending, shouldn’t the response here have been more along the lines of, “We’re frustrated too that we couldn’t do more, but that’s why we need a Republican Senate and a president like Tim Pawlenty in 2013”? A fun fact for that GOP aide from today’s CBO analysis, via National Journal: “The nonpartisan budget agency also projects that total outlays are actually some $3.3 billion more [under the deal] than in 2010, if emergency spending is included in the total.”

On a semi-related note, here’s T-Paw’s chat last night with Piers Morgan about the 2012 field, in which he imagines a “continuum” of seriousness with Romney on one end and people like Palin, Bachmann, Trump and maybe eventually Hulk Hogan on the other. I get what he’s trying to do — Palin and Bachmann are threats to him in Iowa so he needs to marginalize them ASAP — but, er, equating them with freak-show wrestlers is not a way to endear oneself to “strong conservatives.” (He adds that he means no disrespect but it’s purely an afterthought, especially given what he says about not making this a “whimsical” election.) If he’s jabbing this hard already, I guess the race really is in full swing.

Update: Like Pawlenty, National Review says it no longer supports the budget deal. “The episode is strike one against the speakership of John Boehner.”