As I said last week, if he runs for Herb Kohl’s Senate seat, then realistically he can’t be considered for VP.

Which means, if this is true, a Gingrich/Ryan dream ticket remains very much on the table.

The House Budget Committee chairman, who was in Chicago Monday defending his polarizing debt reduction plan in front of the city’s Economic Club, told one prospective candidate he was “leaning heavily against a run,” an adviser confirmed to POLITICO.

Another consultant said that the congressman conveyed he was “95 percent sure” he would not enter the race for the open seat.

That percentage, of course, leaves him a bit of wiggle room, and one source stressed it “wasn’t a guarantee,” but the message being sent was clear.

Jim DeMint told NRO a few hours ago, “It would be wonderful to have a mind like Paul Ryan’s in the Senate. He would raise the IQ of the place by about ten points.” Indeed — but I think running for Senate could actually (slightly) diminish his brand. One of the reasons conservatives love Ryan is that he’s willing to risk his career, even in the House, by running headlong into the political minefield of entitlement reform to solve the debt crisis. That selflessness is rare in a legislator, even at a moment when the gravity of the country’s fiscal predicament should in theory have generated an ethic of sacrifice in the ruling class in the name of averting catastrophe. He’d still retain that image if he ran for Senate, but it would be reduced insofar as it would look like he was shifting his focus from the all-important budget battle to chasing his own ambitions. It’d be like Spock deciding to leave the engine room at the end of “Wrath of Khan” because he wanted to apply for Starfleet captain instead. Ryan made a smart call here, I think.

And you know what? Unlike 99 percent of other politicians, he doesn’t need a Senate seat or governorship to position himself to land on the ticket in the future. He’s not a congressman the way most others are; he’s essentially become conservative America’s budget czar. Thanks to his visibility on entitlements lately, he’s probably the single most respected Republican in the House on the right. If the eventual nominee picks him for VP, no one will question the choice on grounds of stature. (It’ll be questioned in terms of the wisdom of injecting Medicare squarely into the center of the presidential campaign.) Exit question via Jennifer Rubin: If Ryan’s fit to run for Senate, why isn’t he fit to run for president right now, irrespective of what it might mean for his brand?