The conservative opinion journal The Weekly Standard reported this week that Paul Ryan has decided "for the final time" that he will not be a candidate for president in 2012.
The overtones of disappointment were not just audible, they were deafening. Even though Ryan has repeatedly rebuffed such urgings for months, the magazine had been picking up - and eagerly broadcasting - signals that the House Budget Chairman was reconsidering.
Executive editor William Kristol even appeared on FOX News Sunday brandishing a "Ryan-Rubio 2012" button and saying it was 50-50 Ryan would run. Kristol & Co. have been panting after the seven-term congressman from Wisconsin ever since he released his budget proposals that would lower the top tax rates and make Medicare a private program with a limited government contribution.
The magazine has also been high on Marco Rubio, a freshman senator from Florida, an early hero of the Tea Party who has since broadened his outreach.
Ryan and Rubio represent states that voted Democratic in 2008 but swung hard to the right in 2010. They are Catholics, heightening their appeal to the largest swing voting group in the nation. Both Ryan's dollop of updated Jimmy Stewart charm and Rubio's connection to Hispanics could be potent assets on a wider stage, as well.
The problem is, both men seem content with where they are in their lives and careers. Ryan is 41, Rubio 40. Each has every reason to think he'll get his shot at the national level, quite possibly at a time more propitious than the present.
The Weekly Standard understands all this, of course, full well. But the election of 2012 is now less than 15 months away, and it is clear that this organ and other elements of the Republican Party have not locked in on a candidate.
Nary a day goes by without a rumor from New York regarding the imminent emergence of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former Gov. George Pataki. Neither fits the current mood of the party and neither has done much to mount a campaign, but neither seems willing to cross his name off the list (at least so long as the other man's name remains on).
Media organizations based in New York need a New York candidate the way talk shows need a controversy. Pataki's trip to Iowa this weekend will therefore be covered and dutifully reported, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will continue being mentioned as a potential surrogate champion for Gotham.
The website Politico reports that "conservative elites" are driving the search for more candidates in the Republican field. They say the brainy fellows at the Standard and The Wall Street Journal editorial page fear Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won't have what it takes to take down President Obama.
Some may also note that these two publications, well known for their acerbic assessments of the president, are both owned by Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul whose global News Corp. also owns Fox.
Murdoch has not been shy about using his power for political ends in Britain, and his influence may be less noted but no less felt in the U.S.
There seems to be no special affection at Fox for any of the current Republican candidates, although any would surely be preferred over the incumbent. Early frontrunner Romney appears to have been more attractive to conservative activists and commentators four years ago, when he stood as an alternative to Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom they regarded as suspicious and unreliable.
Now, of course, with a Democratic foil in the White House, conservatives have every motivation to hold out for someone they really like. Not just someone who's more orthodox than McCain or Romney but someone who truly fires the imagination of those who read Ayn Rand in high school and von Hayek and von Mises in college.
Whether geography or pedigree or purity is the problem, the search for the perfect Republican candidate goes on. But it is worth remembering that in the late 1970s, as the GOP sought just the right opponent for incumbent Jimmy Carter, plenty of party people were not satisfied with a field that included Ronald Reagan.