Former vice president Dick Cheney on Monday backed off his comment that it was “a mistake” for the GOP to pick Sarah Palin as its vice presidential nominee, suggesting the comment was more about the VP process than about Palin herself.

“It wasn’t aimed so much at governor Palin as it was against the basic process that (John) McCain used, “ Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity in an interview airing Monday night. “My point basically dealt with the process in terms of that basic requirement: Is this person prepared to step in to be President of the United States when they’re picked? And it was my judgment — I was asked if I thought the McCain process in ‘08 had been well done or was it a mistake, and I said I thought it was a mistake.”

Former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, right, talks with Lonnie Robb, of Nazareth, Tex. on Saturday in LaVista, Neb. Palin was in the area after having lunch with Nebraska GOP senate candidate Deb Fischer. (Kent Sievers — AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald)

Cheney said in an interview aired last weekend that “she’d only been governor for, what, two years? I don’t think she passed that test … of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.”

Palin shot back at Cheney, making passing reference to an incident in which Cheney accidentally shot his friend while quail hunting.

She said he was buying into a false narrative about her.

“Seeing as how Dick — excuse me, Vice President Cheney — never misfires, then evidently he’s quite convinced that what he had evidently read about me by the lamestream media, having been written, what I believe is a false narrative over the last four years,” Palin said Tuesday night on Fox News. “Evidently Dick Cheney believed that stuff, and that’s a shame.”

Cheney said in his interview with Hannity that his intention was not to criticize Palin, but rather the process of her selection.

“That’s not ... meant so much as a criticism of governor Palin as it is that I just thought it was not — the process didn’t meet the standards I would like to see our candidate pursue when they pick a — a running mate,” Cheney said.

(Although we would argue that the two aren’t mutually exclusive; there’s only a mistake if the end result is a bad one. Palin’s selection was that end result, so there has to have been something wrong with her, in Cheney’s mind. If a good pick emerged from a flawed process, you wouldn’t call it “a mistake.”)

If nothing else, Cheney’s decision to walk back his comments shows just how much heft Palin retains when it comes to the conservative base. If Cheney, who has no more electoral ambitions for himself and generally says what he wants, is concerned about offending Palin, that says something about her political capital.

It’s also worth noting that Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney, came to Palin’s defense after her dad’s comments.

Cheney is trying to avoid dissension in his own party in the run-up to the 2012 election, which means that it is probably a smart move to defuse what threatened to be a distraction.