I suppose Mitt Romney was the closest of the Republican presidential contenders to sounding sane about the debt ceiling debate. Asked about the ongoing fight in Congress, a Romney spokesperson said, “Governor Romney thinks President Obama’s leadership has been an historic failure. He applauds Speaker Boehner for standing firm against raising taxes when our nation can least afford them.” Now this was before the revised Boehner plan, so it might have been wise not to endorse the specifics of a plan still in flux. At least he was in the ballpark.

Compare that to Tim Pawlenty, who rejected the Boehner plan as insufficient. In what sounded like a guest blog for a far-right Web site , he declared, “The debt limit is a line in the sand where Republicans can force the tough decisions to fix our nation’s finances.” No debt ceiling raise for him! The problem with his desperate attempt to imitate the Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) school of rhetorical defiance is that he has spent a week or so telling us how constructive, productive and effective he was as governor of Minnesota. He talks about “results not rhetoric” and suggests his Minnesota colleague is an entertainer or Tea Party figurehead. So how precisely does that dichotomy mesh with his current situation? We are days from default, and the House Republican majority is coalescing around a plan that will significantly move the debate and the budget in a direction conservatives favor. But not Pawlenty. He’s a rhetoric man on this one. Sigh.

Then there is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is widely thought to be readying his own presidential race. The knock on him is that he’s been long on one-liners but could be out of his depth on federal issues, given his singular answer to nearly every issue (the 10th Amendment). But he also joined the burn-the-house-down set:

“They’re not going to shut down the collection of fees and taxes, I’m thinking,” Perry said, responding to a question after a ceremonial bill signing. “There is still going to be revenues flowing in. I think this threat that somehow or another the world’s going to come to an end and the threat of we’re not going to be able to pay our bills is a bit of a stretch.”

This is precisely the sort of unthinking rhetoric that Perry must shed in order to rise in stature and differentiate himself from his main competitor for Tea Party votes. Really, why go for Bachmann-lite when the core conservatives can have the real thing?

Bachmann, of course, voted against Cut, Cap and Balance (putting her in the gang of nine — no, it’s not really a formal grouping — in the House). It is highly likely but not certain that she’ll vote against the speaker’s bill today.

To say that all the default-denying candidates show a distressing shortage of maturity would be an understatement. One would hope that now that there is a final, final bill at least one of the contenders (Romney would be the most obvious) would give thumbs up to those who think they’ve gotten the very best deal possible without endangering the country’s fiscal health. As for the rest, they should consider whether the bulk of Republican primary voters really want their president to sound like a second-rate blogger.

National radio talk show hosts are given a bad rap by those who rarely if ever listen to them and lump all hosts together. But yesterday, a number of them showed they are not just entertainers but leaders in the conservative movement. They acknowledged the anti-Boehner forces have no answer to : What’s the alternative? Maybe one of them should run for president instead.