ENSIGN JOINS THE CLUB…. As a rule, leading Republican officials have demonstrated far better message discipline than they’ve shown lately.

Republican Sen. John Ensign says Sarah Palin is not experienced enough to be president and John McCain’s presidential campaign “completely mishandled” her early days on the ticket.

The Nevada senator made the comments in a television interview in which he also criticized Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s readiness for the job. Ensign then strayed far from the GOP’s standard description of its vice presidential pick’s qualifications.

Specifically, Ensign told the Las Vegas news program NewsONE, “I do not think that Barack Obama or her are experienced enough to be president of the United States — neither one of them.”

Bashing Obama is expected, but Ensign went ahead and strayed from the party talking points, slamming Palin at the same time.

Ensign is, of course, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which ostensibly puts him in a position where he’d be familiar with the party’s national message.

Last week, McCain chatted with Don Imus, and expressed frustration about Republicans who’ve questioned Palin’s qualifications. “What’s their problem?” McCain asked. “I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president.”

McCain’s fellow Republicans clearly disagree. Ensign joins former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on the list of high-profile Republicans expressing concerns about Palin’s readiness for national office in the campaign’s closing weeks.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.