THIS COLUMN: Pretty please with sugar on top?
POWELL: Who let you in my house anyway? Get out of here before I call the cops.
It is noteworthy that Powell, a man who chooses his words with care, did not say that he would not run for vice president if George W. Bush did not ask him to. Bush's announcement this week that he has, in fact, asked someone else makes this scenario all the more likely.
Like his decision to call off the Gulf War before reaching Baghdad, Powell's decision to cut off his interview with this column before totally clarifying his availability for the No. 2 slot is a risky strategy that may come back to haunt him during the fall election campaign. Among other difficulties, it creates an opening for Ross Perot, whose expressions of non-interest in the nomination of the Reform Party are widely interpreted as expressions of interest in the nomination of the Reform Party. The widely felt concern (though it has yet to be articulated by anybody, at least on the record) is that without Powell or McCain on the ticket, reform-minded Republicans might desert Bush for Perot.
But is Perot running? Here is what he said in an exclusive interview with this column:
PEROT: No, Larry, I'm not running this year.
THIS COLUMN: My name isn't Larry.
PEROT: Then I'm not talking to you.
The mercurial Perot has often been known to change his mind, however, and there is a widespread belief in the political community that, after taking him seriously in two relatively exciting elections, he owes us a run in this one, when we need him.
In any event, only time will tell whether these new hints of interest by McCain, Powell, and Perot are real or figments of an underactive imagination that won't release its grip on an old story line. But one thing is clear: This column, and the rest of the media, will keep asking until we get the answers we want.