A bumper crop of presidential flirts

There’s an unusually high number of presidential flirts this year — that is, they say or hint that they might, but they probably won’t.

The three biggest Republican stars are businessman Donald Trump, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

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Fergus Cullen — a former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP Party — says it’s normal for a presidential season to see all kinds of contenders.

“I think there will be a bumper crop of not-real candidates this year. … New Hampshire has an insatiable appetite for candidates, real or pretending,” he said.

He then adds: “Heck, if the Jones family from Ohio planned a summer vacation to New Hampshire, they could probably get the keynote at a county GOP barbecue.”

Of the three men mentioned above, the first two aren’t likely to run, but act as though they might, while the third works feverishly to say he won’t, even though he could.

Here’s a breakdown of how they stand:

Donald Trump

He’ll make the case that he scored double digits in a recent CNN poll of a hypothetical 2012 Republican primary. 

Others will make the opposing case: that this master of self-promotion has recently seen ratings of his reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” rise as his sudden interest in a presidential bid. Further, they’ll note that he’s said he’ll wait to make a decision until the show ends, which means both the show and his public pondering of a presidential run will coincide perfectly, leaving one to wonder if both actually aren’t shows. 

In fact, last Sunday marked “The Celebrity Apprentice’s” highest ratings of the season. Also continuing to grow: his very public interest in President Obama’s birthplace. There’s no more sensational step to take than running for president, and no more sensational claim to make than that the current one isn’t constitutionally eligible. If you hadn’t noticed, that’s Trump’s platform. And sensationalism has made his career.

Rudy Giuliani

He’s repeatedly maintained interest in a potential run — even after one of the most disastrous primary campaigns in modern history four years ago.

But tellingly, he refuses to say when he might make a decision on another bid.

“When somebody tells me this is the last day to decide, that will be the timeline,” he told The Daily Beast this month. That tack allows him to drag a willing media out to the very last second, while he gets attention and delivers his message.

But just because he and Trump get big headlines doesn’t mean they deserve them, Cullen reminds. 

“I don’t take [them] seriously; they don’t even rise to the level of Jim Gilmore or Tommy Thompson from last time,” he said.

Another longtime observer of New Hampshire politics sees things similarly. Andrew Cline, editorial page editor of the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader, said: “Giuliani did a lot of harm to his national stature when he ran last time, and I don’t see him mending that by running again.”

Giuliani probably knows that. He just doesn’t want you to.

Chris Christie

He occupies rarer and much more serious space. That’s because he could be a legitimate contender but says he doesn’t want to be — a different kind of flirting than Trump’s and Giuliani’s.

The Weekly Standard recently claimed that the New Jersey governor can expect “tremendous pressure” from national Republicans to get in the race. To many, he’s the only candidate who can soothe the establishment while firing up the grass roots — a combination that seems missing in many of the current candidates.

The problem is that Christie has said he doesn’t want to be president — even that he’s not ready for it. Despite his repeated denials, he’s batted his share of eyelashes.

For example, during one of those deflections, to the National Review, he nevertheless conceded that “I already know I could win.” It’s a coquettish thing, indeed, to try to get presidential heat off your back at the same time you claim you could win.

And his scope has gotten broader — exactly what you’d expect from a national candidate. 

Last month, he told The New York Times that he wanted at least some role in the 2012 campaign: “I could still be part of a vigorous, national debate and weigh in with my views on those things without having to offer myself for the presidency.”

And, in a highly publicized event at the American Enterprise Institute, he said that he’d do more than just try to talk about his favorite issues in the coming election: “If the people who I campaigned for don’t stand up and do the right thing, the next time they’ll see me in their district, it will be with my arm around their primary opponent.”

Or maybe, Christie himself will be the primary opponent. 

Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a member of staff at The Hill.  Find his column, GOP Presidential Primary, on thehill.com.