Ask a Simple Veepstakes Question, Get a Simple Dodge

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In the long tribal dance between reporters and politicians we call the veepstakes, the latest way to make prospective vice presidential candidates squirm is to ask them about the vetting process. This is how Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell made "news" when he told NBC's Chuck Todd that the Romney campaign hadn't asked him to provide "vetting documents" to assess his potential as a vice presidential candidate. While headlines have blared for more than a week that the "Vice Presidential Audition Process Has Begun!" what we know about the process is usually vague answers to the vague question put to potential veeps like "would you accept the vice presidential nomination?" The more concrete "Have you provided the campaign with materials?" is a refreshing change. But politicians still have proven they are experts at dodges and obfuscations. Here's the list of the folks that have already had the unavoidable question put to them on the record and their pained answers. 

Gov. Bob McDonnell: Our first straight shooter. On Tuesday, Chuck Todd asked him if he "has had to turn anything over to the Romney campaign. "Nope," he replied. "But I'm going to do everything I can to help him in Virginia." Well, that settles that ... for now.

Tim Pawlenty: The also-ran was asked if Romney's campaign had asked for documents, and he said  has asked him to turn over documents to undergo vetting, Pawlenty, who serves as the national co-chair of Romney’s campaign, remained mum, refusing to talk about the "process." 

"Well, the Romney campaign has a policy — and I'm a national co-chair of the campaign — that we don't talk about the vice presidential policy in terms of timing, whether it relates to me or anyone else or the aspects of that," Pawlenty said. "That's just the campaign's policy.  We don't discuss the details of that process."

That, at least, sounds like a concrete and plausible explanation for the non-denial denial.

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Sen. Rob Portman: Perhaps the pundit class's favorite choice, Portman "gently dodge" questions, Buzzfeed reported, "saying he will decline to answer questions about whether he'd provided vetting materials to the Romney campaign."

Rep. Paul Ryan:  Ryan faced the inescapable glare of "Meet the Press" when he had the question put to him and he responded, "Look, I’m not going to get into the internal process of another campaign." 

Mitch Daniels: Once again, NBC's Chuck Todd, (who seems to be doing more than anyone to get everyone on the record on this point) asked Daniels, "Will you participate in the vetting process if the Romney campaign asks you to?" It's not quite the definitive "have you submitted documents" but from his answer, we doubt Daniels would have given a more illuminating one. "Make some easy money and bet against this whole idea. I’m not interested in doing that. It won't happen anyway and if I have something to contribute to the national debate we’re in then I’ll look for other ways." Given he didn't say, "No I will not provide materials," despite his emphatic tone, don't expect people to leave him alone on this point.

Sen. Marco Rubio: "Declined to talk."

There are some big names left off that list, like Chris Christie, whose answer is bound to trend toward McDonnell's bluntness whenever a reporter puts it to him, so look forward to that. But with all of these non-denials, we're now equipped to see why a governor admitting he hasn't submitted vetting documents makes such news. If someone out there is willing to say a flat-out no, and you're not as willing, prepare to remain on the media's "maybe" list, and keep brushing up on those non-denials because you're bound to use them for the many... months... we have left... before the announcement. (Which will likely come just before the Republican convention at the end of August.) 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.