The always thoughtful Rhodes Cook writes:

“Conventional wisdom is that the Republican presidential field is set, and that it is much too late for a new candidate to enter the race.

“In years past, that would be absolutely correct. Over the last few decades, dozens of primaries and caucuses have been shoe-horned into the opening weeks of the election year, with the tendency on the Republican side for the front-running candidate to score a quick knockout.

“But next year, the arrangement of the primary calendar is much different. It is less condensed at the front, much more loaded with events at the back, with the prospect of a viable, late-starting candidate quite real....

“[T]he elongated layout of the nominating calendar this time provides the opportunity for a late-starting candidate to emerge. Should Mitt Romney stumble badly in the January events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, another establishment Republican could enter the race in early February and still compete directly in states with at least 1,200 of the 2,282 or so GOP delegates. Many of them will be up for grabs after April 1 when statewide winner-take-all is possible.

“Similarly, should non-Romney alternatives led by Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry fall flat in the January contests, there would be time for the conservative wing of the party to find a new champion to carry its banner through the bulk of the primary season.”

Read the whole thing, with its charts of when delegates will be chosen and its discussion of filing deadlines. It wouldn’t be easy to pull off a late draft or a late entry, but it’s not as impossible as conventional wisdom assumes.

The key, I think, would be if both Romney and Gingrich stumbled during January. If that were to happen, there would be a window of opportunity in February—during the gap between the first spurt of January primaries and Super Tuesday on March 6. The window probably closes around Valentine’s Day—Tuesday, February 14—so let’s call the late entry the Valentine’s Day option. That could be the last chance (unless there’s a deadlocked convention, which isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility either) for Republicans to throw off the old suitors and run into the arms of a new Prince Charming. Or two. And Valentine’s Day is for the young.

So (as I argued a year ago—and several times subsequently), why not the best? Ryan-Rubio 2012?

And don’t think, by the way, that Ryan and Rubio are too young. One of the first references to Valentine’s Day in connection with romance is in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382). Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day

Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make

(“For this was on Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”)

This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, who were married less than a year later, when each was only 15 years old. Yes, I know the reign of Richard II didn’t turn out so well. But the first 20 years or so weren’t bad—and Ryan-Rubio would only have to govern for 16.

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