Tuesday morning’s story, reported by ABC News, that Mitt Romney was not vetting Sen. Marco Rubio as a possible running mate was a stunning change in the conventional wisdom concerning Romney’s vice presidential search. Yes, many political insiders (as distinguished from campaign insiders) thought that Sen. Rob Portman was a much more likely choice, but most also believed Romney would take a close look at Rubio, if only for the fact that Rubio is immensely popular with Republicans and a top VP choice for many party faithful. The report that Romney wasn’t even looking at Rubio seemed hard to figure and left some in the press speculating that there might be something in Rubio’s background that had short-circuited the possibility that he might run with Romney.
Then, late Tuesday, Romney turned the news on its head. “The [ABC] story was entirely false,” he told reporters in Holland, Michigan. “Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.”
Romney continued: “There was a story that originated today, apparently at ABC, based upon reports of supposedly outside unnamed advisers of mine. I can’t imagine who such people are. But I can tell you this: They know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation process. There are only two people in this country who know who are being vetted and who are not and that’s Beth Myers and myself. And I know Beth well. She doesn’t talk to anybody.”
Team Romney says the story was simply flat-out wrong. They decline to speculate on who might have leaked it, saying only that if the intention was somehow to affect the Rubio vetting, it didn’t work. The vetting was going on and would not be stopped by an erroneous news report saying it wasn’t.
But with Romney’s denial, the Rubio story has become much more interesting than the relatively straightforward he’s-not-being-vetted news of Tuesday morning. There is the possibility that Rubio was indeed being vetted and that someone connected to the campaign spread disinformation about the process — disinformation that also just happened to appear on the same day that Rubio’s memoir, An American Son, was published. There’s also the possibility that ABC was right, that Rubio wasn’t being vetted, but that when the news came out Romney felt he had to pretend that Rubio was, in fact, on the list. Or there are more complicated possibilities; for example, that Romney campaign was conducting some sort of non-vetting vetting that was really for show all along.
Of course, it could be that the ABC story is simply completely, totally wrong.
Rubio himself hasn’t commented, and late Tuesday his spokesman again declined to say anything about the story. But the bottom line is that Tuesday’s events cast a shadow on the image of Romney’s campaign as a tightly-run, highly disciplined operation. Somehow, somewhere, something went wrong.