The lessons behind the incessant Christie scuttlebutt

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has said, over and over again, he won’t run for president in 2012. He’s said on national television that he’s “not ready” to serve as president, and he’s told reporters, “Short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running.”

And yet, talk in Republican circles about recruiting Christie into the race not only continues, it’s getting much louder. While the scuttlebutt has generally been limited to a handful of conservative reporters, over the weekend, the rumors gained new salience when Politico reported that the governor is “reconsidering” his decision and “has indicated he is listening to big-money backers and Republican influence-makers.” Time‘s Mark Halperin added that Christie “has had recent conversations that have indicated an openness to a run.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea whether to take these rumors seriously. I can, however, make some larger observations about the fact that the rumors persist despite the governor’s forceful denials.

First, if Christie is serious (and I rather doubt he is), it’s worth reemphasizing that jumping into a national race at this late stage is extremely, probably prohibitively, difficult. The Iowa caucuses are less than five months away, and it takes time, not only for a candidate to get prepared, but to create a national campaign framework. Christie may like to bully voters, but he can’t bully the calendar.

Second, and probably more important, is the fact that this incessant scuttlebutt is a reminder of just how weak the Republicans’ 2012 field really is. Yes, given the larger economic conditions, one of these candidates may end up winning next year, but the fact that so many GOP officials, fundraisers, powerbrokers, and pundits are still desperately looking for a savior reinforces a simple truth: this is a pretty awful group of candidates that leaves many Republicans underwhelmed, uninspired, and apparently a little panicky.

I can’t say I blame them. If I were a major GOP insider asked to choose between the unlikable flip-flopper, the dimwitted governor, the wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, the disgraced former Speaker, the guy who ran a pizza company, the radical libertarian, and the former Obama administration official, I too might be asking myself, “Who else can we reach out to?”

Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the Christie speculation is still a waste of time.

Mr. Christie’s aides say the governor hasn’t budged from his months-long insistence that he won’t enter the presidential fray, despite what one described as a “relentless” stream of calls over the last week from prominent Republicans urging him to run.

“None of that triggers any new thinking on his part,” said one Christie adviser. “He’s very polite to these people: ‘Thank you for calling. That’s very flattering. I’ll let you know.’ And I think they interpret that, ‘Ah-ha! A rethinking.’ “

I don’t imagine this will end the speculation, but if it does, we’ll probably just see another round of reports asking, “What’s Jeb Bush up to?”