Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy joked that his powerhouse panel of former governors would address the elephant in the room, but that’s about as close as the congressman got - even obliquely - to the controversy enveloping his party’s nominee for president.

“What’s more difficult,” McCarthy, the moderator, asked former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Running for president or ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”

Perry, game for the exchange, said becoming an Air Force pilot was the toughest thing he’s ever done.

“But ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was just a touch under that. Running for president was a piece of cake” in comparison.

Perry was eliminated from the dance competition in week three of the current season, and his two campaigns to become his party’s nominee for president panned out about the same. He was joined on stage by two other former governors whose presidential aspirations likewise fell short: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bill Richardson of New Mexico.   

“I promise I’ll be bipartisan. The only Democrats here are myself and that guy in the kitchen,” cracked Richardson, who played up the more conservative side of his tenure as governor to appeal to the conservative crowd.

Indeed, the three governors mostly stuck to topics they’ve trumpeted in the past: Jindal attacked the Affordable Care Act, Richardson called himself a pro-business Democrat who wasn’t afraid to cut taxes, and Perry got the biggest applause in wrapping up his remarks with a tribute to the country’s men and women in uniform, his voice husky with emotion.

“This could be a presidential debate,” observed McCarthy. “All have stood on that stage and all are young enough to do it again.”

All the panelists agreed that many Americans feel alienated from both political parties and their presidential nominees.

“What worries me is not an external threat,” Jindal said. “I’m afraid we live in a culture today where people are more famous for being famous than actual accomplishment.”

Richardson turned to moderator McCarthy, the second most powerful Republican in the House, with a challenge to elevate the discourse in Washington and the country:

“Kevin, you’re a bridge builder and a good guy, so get on this, will you?”

“I thought that was advice for people running for president,” McCarthy responded, “but I’ll take it.”

 

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