It’s hard to know, sometimes, whether prominent GOP politicians really support the GOP presidential candidate they support — that is, whether they actually agree with the views the candidate expresses — or whether they just want to be considered for the largess of a new president. One of the first favors the eventual GOP nominee will be able to bestow: The vice presidential nomination.

Sure, other explanations exist as to why the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and South Dakota Sen. John Thune support Mitt Romney — but they would probably not be too bent out of shape if Romney — should he secure the nomination — tapped ’em for the VP slot.

Meantime, U.S. News and World Report reports that the GOP elite — whoever they are — have their own ideas about who should be vice president. The aforementioned gals don’t make the list, but the guys — surprisingly like Romney himself — do. Here are the details:

While over a dozen names were suggested by the strategists, some with the campaigns, four top the list: South Dakota Sen. John Thune and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both surrogates for Romney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most talked-about Hispanic in Washington, and former Secretary of State Condi Rice.

“Romney is likely to have to go right,” said one former Bush aide. “He’ll need somebody to generate enthusiasm from the base. Rubio fits the bill.”

Some suggested that while most of the top picks appear easy and safe candidates, it is not out of the question that Romney would choose a surprise. The reason: Romney himself is the safest of the GOP candidates and might need some spice to rev up the Republican base. But it won’t be Sarah Palin. Not one of our experts mentioned her, though former McCain adviser and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina got a vote.

Gotta say: I would not be excited if Mitt Romney selected a single one of those four. Of them, I like Rubio best — but I’m panicked to pluck any GOP Senator out of the Capitol when we desperately need majorities in both houses of Congress. The other two men are plagued with problems similar to Romney’s. And, as for Condi, well, I admire her prodigious accomplishments — but there’s a reason you rarely hear the name “George W. Bush” on the campaign trail these days and anybody in his administration carries some big-government baggage.

Surely a GOP nominee Romney would be smarter than to permanently solidify his establishment image by selecting an establishment-ordained candidate. My suggestion (if he doesn’t take Iowa by storm tonight and move on to take the GOP nomination): Rick Santorum.

Update: This post originally incorrectly stated the article about GOP insiders’ VP picks came from The USA Today when, in fact, it came from U.S. News and World Report.