Too bad. He would have been a long longshot for the nomination but I would have backed him in the primary regardless if only because I want my conscience to be clear when, not if, the entitlements bomb finally goes off. No one seriously believes Romney’s going to pound the table about that if he’s elected, and while Perry’s rhetoric about Social Security and Medicare in his “Fed Up!” book was encouraging, his campaign’s already begun to inch away from it.

To think, now I’ll never get to say “Don’t blame me, I voted for Ryan.” Maybe I’ll write him in.

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan has decided for a final time that he will not run for president in 2012, THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned. Ryan, who began seriously considering a bid in late May after Indiana governor Mitch Daniels took himself out of the race, had consulted with top Republicans, including Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, as he contemplated his political future. And though many of those he talked with told him he would be a viable candidate in such a fluid race, even as a late entry, Ryan ultimately decided to continue his focus on debt and entitlement reform as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party’s nomination for President. I remain hopeful that our party will nominate a candidate committed to a pro-growth agenda of reform that restores the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation. I remain grateful to those I serve in Southern Wisconsin for the unique opportunity to advance this effort in Congress.”

So I guess, with the sole and significant exception of Palin, the field is now set. Or is it?

Ryan and Christie spoke for nearly an hour about the presidential race, according to four sources briefed on the conversation. The two men shared a central concern: The Republican field is not addressing the debt crisis with anything beyond platitudes…

Although the two men have not been especially close personally, their conversation about the campaign was blunt, and they agreed on a central point: If these issues are to get the kind of attention they deserve, one of the two men will have to run. One source called it a de facto pact, but another described it as a more informal understanding. Christie told Ryan what he has (usually) told others: He does not want to run.

Ryan’s not running, though, which means Christie … also is not running. (After his climate-change comments, how could he?) And of course Daniels isn’t running either. Which means, despite the overwhelming consensus on the right that the national debt is a crisis of utmost urgency and that entitlement reform is the only meaningful way out of it, the party’s three most highly regarded messengers on that issue are all taking a pass on Campaign 2012 — despite the very real chance of unseating a weak Democratic incumbent. Sad.

Exit question: Who, if anyone, among the top tier of candidates picks up the banner of entitlement reform now? Romney’s actually best positioned to do it because it’s almost impossible for Democrats to caricature him as a wild-eyed ideologue. But since his first and last political instinct is “safety first,” he’s the least likely to take a chance. Will Perry fill the gap? Will Palin?