I am heartbroken by the tragedy in Arizona and wish the best for everyone affected by the shootings, those grieving and those recovering from the horror of Saturday.

In my column Thursday I will touch on the broader issues this has raised, but I will briefly take note here of how this event is already affecting the 2012 presidential race. Let's start by agreeing that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is not remotely responsible for the actions of mentally unstable people and should not be the central focus of the discussion over how to arrive at a more measured and reasoned debate. Do comments like "don't retreat, instead RELOAD" coarsen the political discourse? Absolutely. Is she the only person who talks that way? No way.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), also considered a likely presidential contender in 2012, has become the first Republican to cross Palin by answering a reporter's question about whether he would have employed the same type of imagery as Palin's now-removed website map that targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's (D-Ariz.) district in what Palin aides claim was crosshairs not intended to be the sights of a gun.
"I wouldn't have done it," Pawlenty told The New York Times. Though he said there was little evidence the map fueled the suspect's actions, Pawlenty still said, "It's not a device I would have chosen to do." He added afterwards, "But I don't want anyone to infer that there's evidence in this case that it caused or was a contributing factor. We don't know that."

This is interesting. Pawlenty is not blaming Palin, but he is challenging her nonetheless. Not one high-profile Republican officeholder has ever done so. Should this matter preclude a presidential run for Palin, it won't stop her from weighing in on the process and possibly playing kingmaker. We will be watching to see if anyone else in the lineup dares to criticize Palin — and risk offending her supporters — in any way, on any subject. And we will watch to see if this moment comes back to bite Pawlenty.

Ask A.B. took a pause this week in light of the tragedy in Arizona and will return next week, on Jan. 18. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.