Opinion: GOP governors meet and seek to, uh, not talk about Sarah Palin

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For the last five or six decades, the Republican Party always seems to do better on the presidential level when it offers the country a chief executive -- governors, mainly, but also generals, VPs, maybe someday business-types.

Think Eisenhower (general), Nixon (VP), Reagan (Gov), Bush I (VP), Bush II (Gov).


Legislators are losers. Forget Goldwater (Senate), Ford (House), Dole (Senate) and McCain (Senate).

So naturally, with 2012 just around the corner, we peek in on that presidential candidate breeding ground, the ego-free Republican Governors Assn. (Romney, Huckabee, Gilmore, Jindal, Crist and what’s-her-name, the new gal in the house--Sarah Palin).

The RGA opened a three-day meeting today on Miami’s Biscayne Bay waterfront.

On hand, of course, was The Times’ political warhorse Mark Z. Barabak, who remembers President Franklin D. Roosevelt urgently addressing the nation on television after the great stock market crash of 1929. No, wait, that was Joe the senator.

The governors’ sessions offered participants a chance to discuss....

...policy innovation (yawn), best-government practices (zzzz), assess last week’s disappointing election returns (ouch!) and, for a half dozen or more prospects, get a jump on the 2012 GOP race.

Several of the possibilities—including Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Texas’ Rick Perry and Florida’s Charlie Crist—have been sprinkled throughout the program.

All, however, have been overshadowed by Alaska’s Palin, who’s such a star she gets her own solo press conference Thursday morning while all the other govs meet reporters in group “round tables.”

Then, the country’s best-known multitasking mom will deliver a speech to her colleagues and any media that wander by on “Looking Towards the Future.”

Which for Republicans is a whole lot better than looking towards the past week’s political rubble.

But today, in her absence, Palin’s name came up at one of those round tables, and the result could serve as a graduate-level course in squirmy evasion.

Members of the panel were Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman of Utah, former Ebay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and Rob Portman, former House member and budget director in the Bush II administration. Barabak had his tape recorder on.

They were asked whether Palin was the best possible choice for vice president, or whether she hurt running mate John McCain and the GOP ticket this fall.

Whitman: “I think John picked exactly who he thought was the right person to pick at the time.”

Huntsman: “McCain… [is] a person whose instincts have always served him very well throughout his political career.”

Portman: “She energized the base in ways that were necessary.”

Got the real message there?

So, then came the follow-up question: Would you have been comfortable with Palin serving as president?

After an enormously pregnant but pro-life pause, Whitman responded that Palin was a “very fast study, incredibly enthusiastic.”

Huntsman: “I don’t think it’s a simple yes or no.”

Pawlenty, who’d been mentioned as a prime VP pick himself, said it was McCain’s decision. “So in his judgment, she met that criteria and he felt strongly about that, and we’re going to have to defer to his judgment and that process.”

See if you can follow this. Pawlenty ended with this:

“I think everybody will be looking back and second-guessing, triple-guessing this stuff for months and years.… A lot of this is just like postmodern art. You can look at the painting and different people look at it and see different things.…

‘What you have to look to in the end is the data, an objective measurement of it. And so, politics as postmodern art analysis is fun and interesting. but it doesn’t get you very far. So I would just steer you to the data.”

The data? You mean, like the Electoral College?

There, the tentative numbers right now are McCain-Palin 173, Brand X 365.

Or how about the popular vote? McC-P 58 million, Others 66.3 million.

--Andrew Malcolm

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