Since Gov. Malloy took office last January, the contrast in both form and substance between him and his predecessor has been breathtaking. And if you’re looking for a revealing disparity in ambition between Malloy and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, look no further than the current governor’s appearances on cable television.

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Malloy has become a regular at the friendly confines of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, a breezy round-table discussion of political trends co-hosted by Mika Brzezinski, a former reporter and anchor at WFSB, the CBS affiliate in Hartford. Most small-state governors wouldn’t bother getting into a limo in the wee hours of the morning and driving three hours to 30 Rock just to weigh in on national issues.

But Malloy has done it more than once. He took to Morning Joe last July to stoke a nascent feud with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And two months later on CNN, Malloy made news when he called GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul “an idiot” for suggesting the federal government shouldn’t play a role in providing relief to victims of natural disasters. And yet again on Monday, only two days before his second state-of-the-state speech, the array of far-flung topics was too much for Malloy to resist.

Ever since Malloy has sought to increase his national profile, there’s been speculation about whether he aspires to national office. That possibility gained currency when Malloy gave award-winning Connecticut journalist Ted Mann enough access to write an exhaustive — and largely favorable — series on the governor’s first year in office. Mann has since parlayed his opus into a gig at The Wall Street Journal. Will Malloy follow him onto the national stage?

Well, the evidence mounts: Malloy traveled to Afghanistan last year and, most recently, to the high-profile World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland — a trip that he managed to mention during his MSNBC appearance. The European excursion was ostensibly made in order to drum up business for the state from multi-national corporations, but the picturesque forum also allowed Malloy unique access to international media coverage.

Monday on Morning Joe, Malloy looked decidedly less impressive than he did last summer when he attacked Paul in the wake of a hurricane that devastated Connecticut. This week, Malloy looked sort of like Christie sometimes does — a partisan hack sent out by party superiors to go after its enemies and defend its most controversial policies.

On President Obama’s brazen move to require organizations run by the Catholic church to provide employee insurance coverage for artificial birth control, Malloy was unapologetic. He insisted it was “the right rule” and that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would have a tough time criticizing it because “it’s [also] required by Romneycare.” Touché.

Ha also commented on the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial starring Clint Eastwood and extolling the rescue of the auto industry. Waxing poetic on the ad, which amounted to little more than a corporate-sponsored re-election spot for Obama, Malloy fell back on tired and discredited talking points that paint the Republicans as heartless barons who wanted to throw millions of people out of work:

“I like the ad. It reminds people that Obama saved the auto industry. 1.4 million people employed in the auto industry right here in the U.S. and the Republicans wanted it to go down.”

That last statement is ridiculous. It assumes that anyone who opposed the massive bailouts of the failing auto companies necessarily wanted them to liquidate and shut their doors. Republicans, including Mitt Romney, wanted GM and Chrysler to go through a managed bankruptcy rather than receive government largess.

Indeed, Malloy’s erroneous statement, repeated at every turn by Obama supporters, has been fact-checked by The Washington Post and was rated “Two Pinnochios.” Malloy should know better.

The governor also touted Connecticut’s somewhat improved economic condition, while acknowledging that there is “some weakness” in tax receipts — an apparent reference to the unanticipated budget deficit that no one on the show pressed him on. That’s too bad because Malloy has been touting his “shared sacrifice” approach as a contrast to other northeastern governors (e.g. Christie, Cuomo) who resisted tax increases to close yawning budget gaps. Now, after the largest tax increase in Connecticut history has failed to correct our fiscal imbalance, Malloy has, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, “some ‘splainin’ to do.”

So, do Malloy’s attempts to increase his national profile really presage a run for higher office? Hartford trial lawyer Norm Pattis thinks so. So does Patrick Scully, a Democratic political operative and communications specialist.

I’m inclined to agree. Although, like Scully, I think if the governor aspires to higher office, he should avoid sharing the stage with reprobates like Al Sharpton. I’m pretty sure that Malloy’s rival from New Jersey wouldn’t be caught dead sitting across the table from Tawana Brawley’s unlicensed legal advisor.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.