Pawlenty: GOP Nominee by Default?

March 8th, 2011 at 11:08 am David Frum | 62 Comments |

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Jonathan Chait reasons his way to Pawlenty as the most plausible GOP nominee for 2012.

Chait is applying the Sherlock Holmes methods: “Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however implausible, must be the truth.”

I’ve reasoned the same way about Pawlenty, as recently as over dinner last night with a group of close political watchers. And yet … predicting Pawlenty feels like reaching the wrong answer on a math exam. You do the calculation and you arrive at the answer, Pawlenty. You think: that can’t be right. You check the formulas. Yes, you have written them down correctly. You repeat the calculation. Same answer. And it still does not feel right.

Pawlenty was a fine governor, and I’m sure he would be a fine president. Yet I have never met anybody who is enthusiastic about him, and I’ve met quite a few of the people who work for him. (I’ve never met Mrs Pawlenty, but I assume she’s enthusiastic about the governor. Certainly the governor is enthusiastic about Mrs. Pawlenty.)

Can you reach the presidency with all around you saying, “He’s fine, he’ll do”?

I suppose you could say that a similar line of argument worked for John Kerry in 2004. But that’s not exactly an inspiring precedent.


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62 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    Pawlenty was a fine governor? Check the facts and I think you’ll find that Minnesotans could not stand him in the end.

    A PPP poll of Minnesotans in December found Pawlenty’s approval/disapproval was 43%/53% – ouch.

    That same poll – which was of just Minnesotans – found Pawlenty would do less well than Romney in a head-to-head against Obama.

    Here’s the link to the poll (PDF): http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/PPP_Release_MN_12081023.pdf

    There was also an earlier poll, from September, done by MPR, which also found that Minnesotans would prefer Romeny over Pawlenty. The question was something like “who among the likely Republican candidates would make a better president?” Romney outpolled Pawlenty 45% to 32%.

  • Carney

    I have the same reaction Frum described. He just seems like an inevitable general election loser to me; I’m not sure why.

    Maybe it’s an “alpha male” thing. In each election the alpha male wins. Pawlenty just seems a bit nerdy, and has publicly talked about how his wife won’t sleep with him. Nails on chalkboard.

    You might wonder how a fighter pilot war hero who married a hot blonde beer heiress could lose to a skinny liberal exotic, but McCain was past 70 in 2008 and looking every day of it. Eventually the aging silverback loses a challenge from a young up-and-comer.

    Now Romney is definitely an alpha male. Maybe a bit too annoyingly perfect like Owen Wilson’s character in the “Focker” movies, but I think he’s got a confident, winner air about him.

    Just an idle theory / thought – of the kind that might get tossed around at a bar.

    • Watusie

      You might wonder how a fighter pilot war hero who married a hot blonde beer heiress could lose to a skinny liberal exotic,

      Actually, no. The entire Bush Administration experience taught the American public to look beyond the packaging and think about a candidate’s intelligence, temperament and character.

      Voting for the “Alpha Male” in 2000 and 2004 gave us the worst administration in living memory, quite possibly the worst of all time.

      And I laugh at the idea that Romney has the air of winner – he is a transparent, flip-flopping phoney with a track-record of job-destruction, asset-stripping, and off-shore tax avoidance. No one dares talk about these things in the primaries, becasue Republicans don’t necessarily see these as Bad Things. However, as soon as he comes up against a Democrat he is going to get the hide flailed off him.

      • Carney

        Stop harshing my mellow, dude.

        We get it, you’re an angry leftist. I have more than my share of outrage on most days too. But geez, relax.

        Sure the issues are serious and important.

        But sometimes you gotta take a breath and just have fun following the horse race.

    • JeninCT

      I agree about the whole alpha male idea. Frankly, they’re a pain in the ass to live with but there’s no one better in a crisis. Beta males seem wishy washy but are better at keeping everyone happy.

      Broad generalizations, I know, but like you said, it’s kind of idle bar talk.

      • Watusie

        Really? So if it were Patton vs. Eisenhower, you’d take Patton?

        I don’t think so….

    • COProgressive

      (Laughter…..)

      GWB an “Alpha” male? And all this time I thought Darth Cheney was the male in that marriage.

      Too funny…..

  • CentristNYer

    “You might wonder how a fighter pilot war hero who married a hot blonde beer heiress could lose to a skinny liberal exotic,”

    Better question: how did a genuine Viet Nam war hero with purple hearts lose to a slacker alcoholic who barely served in the National Guard?

  • midcon

    David,

    Do you really believe “I’m sure he would be a fine president” considering the things he has been saying lately? At best you might be able to say “I’m sure he would not be a disaster if the impossible happened and he was elected president”

    At one time Pawlenty seemed to employ logic, reason and common sense. He seems to have lost it along the way.

  • MSheridan

    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that our current President is actually closer to Mr. Frum’s ideal than any Republican who actually appears to have a shot at the office. I wouldn’t say that if Mitch Daniels or Jon Huntsman had any chance of winning the Republican base, but Pawlenty and Romney are generally considered the GOP frontrunners and at this point no one knows what, if anything, they truly believe aside from truly believing they should be President.

    Like the preceding Democratic President, Barack Obama has sorely disappointed the leftmost part of his base, who now sometimes him “the best Republican President” (“…since Clinton”, “…in the last 30 years”, “…since Lincoln”, etc.). If only President Obama were more inclined toward foreign intervention than he is (what some would call a more “muscular” approach to foreign policy), I find it difficult to imagine David Frum actually wanting him replaced by anyone the GOP could actually put up against him.

    I don’t say this in criticism. I certainly don’t want any of the opposition candidates to win. I just think that although Mr. Frum is not remotely liberal, with the possible exception of foreign policy he is closer in his attitudes to many conservative Democrats than he is to the majority of today’s Republican Party.

  • TerryF98

    You can’t polish a turd, and Pawlenty is one huge turd.

  • CentristNYer

    “You can’t polish a turd, and Pawlenty is one huge turd.”

    I would again direct anyone who hasn’t viewed it to see The Daily Show interview with Pawlenty from sometime in January. That a comedian and fake journalist rang circles around him is not encouraging.

    • Radish

      Pawlenty seems like he’s always trying to figure out what to say to please whoever is listening; he seems like an act rather than a person. Trying to second guess Stewart just can’t be don’t that fast, so no wonder he failed. He doesn’t know what he himself believes, or at least he’s not willing to tell us.

      Am just remembering that hilarious Introductory Ad that looked like a trailer for the latest rambo movie. That’s who Pawlenty is???

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “Better question: how did a genuine Viet Nam war hero with purple hearts lose to a slacker alcoholic who barely served in the National Guard?”

    By acting like a pussy. And there’s a lesson in that.

    • COProgressive

      and having the rug pulled out from under him in the SC primary with the Rove push call asking….

      Psssst….. “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” – Karl Rove

  • Tempest in a Frumpot

    Pawlenty is the Republican Jimmy Carter. At most, he is VP material on a losing ticket. It is starting to look like it will be Rubio-Jindal in 2016. This is such a lackluster field, the charismatic ones are crazy (Newt, Palin) the competent (ostensibly) ones are bland. What did they say about Dewey…that he looked like the guy on top of a wedding cake, the same can be said for Mannikin Mitt.
    OTOH, 2016 looks bad for Democrats since Hillary ain’t going to run and Biden will be too old.

  • MSheridan

    @Tempest,

    You could be right, but my feeling is that Christie is positioning himself for 2016 as well and I’d give him a decent chance vs. Rubio in the GOP primaries (I wouldn’t vote for either of them).

    Then too, don’t forget that Obama’s breakout moment on the national stage was his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Before that he was well known only in Illinois. Two-term Presidents tend to overshadow rising talent in their own party, but we still have plenty of time to see a Democratic candidate for 2016 emerge from relative obscurity.

  • COProgressive

  • COProgressive

    predicting Pawlenty feels like reaching the wrong answer on a math exam. You do the calculation and you arrive at the answer, Pawlenty. You think: that can’t be right. You check the formulas. Yes, you have written them down correctly. You repeat the calculation. Same answer. And it still does not feel right.

    But Pawlenty is the right answer for the Repubs given the fact that no Repub has yet announced their candidacy. They ALL believe they will lose to the President and don’t want to make the commitment which could be a political career-ending run.

    [blockquote]Oh, the Republicans had their shot not long ago to address the real needs and concerns of everyday Americans, and they blew it. I think that’s mitigated by the fact that we ( insert lame excuse here), but over the time that they were there and had the leadership opportunity, they blew it. We got fired for a reason.” – Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)

    Oh, they got FIRED for a reason alright. That reason is Repuglicans stink at governing.[/blockquote]

  • Saladdin

    I’m sorry, but Mr. Excitement isn’t gonna win. He’s got as much chance as Boss Hawg does.

    • tommyudo

      “Pawlenty just seems a bit nerdy”

      Do yah think?? When I see Pawlenty I’m reminded of that line Phyllis Diller had about her imaginary husband, Fang – “He needs both hands to drink his milk.”
      Romney contorts himself into so many stances that he’s become a media joke, and the loony Right who vote in primaries don’t seem to trust him. Face the facts, whoever the GOP nominates will be a sacrificial lamb.

  • ottovbvs

    You could apply all these same arguments to Daniels. The fact is the Republicans are in huge disarray on lining up their nominee for 2012. It’s March 2011 and we don’t actually have a single declaree yet. Gingrich has said he”ll probably run and then we have a host of maybe’s. Did March 2007 look like this? My personal guess is the young guns (Bush, Rubio et al) have more or less decided Obama can’t be beat so better to keep their powder dry til ’16. The issue then becomes whether the party nominates someone like Pawlenty (the ur Dole) to lose respectably or whether the establishment lets the crazies have their head and someone like Palin or Gingrich ends at the head of the ticket which provide the crazies with a lesson. The downside of all this of course is what it does to the rest of their nominees. So this brings you back to:

    “Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however implausible, must be the truth.”

    • tommyudo

      Daniels history with the first Bush Admin. would come back to haunt him, and besides he’s too short, a shade taller than Mickey Rooney. I think a Ginrich/Bachmann ticket would be great for laughs and keep late night talk show busy.

      • Saladdin

        I think a Ginrich/Bachmann ticket would be great for laughs and keep late night talk show busy.

        Agreed, but for pure laughs, Palin/Bachmann would be worth the election crap. (Do I see 50 state sweep?)

        • tommyudo

          “Agreed, but for pure laughs, Palin/Bachmann would be worth the election crap. (Do I see 50 state sweep?)”

          I thought of that combo, but you would need more diversity, like a male running mate who is at least half sane and has an IQ somewhere north of 100. Having a P/B ticket would bring an interesting twist to the term “blow out.”

        • hisgirlfriday

          Reminds me of those Palin-Bachman 2012 “I’m with Stupid” gifs…

  • Saladdin

    Did March 2007 look like this? No, on the Dem side, Obama, Clinton and Edwards all declared by end of Feb. Same on GOP side. Seems as if they’re all in a line going, “You first.” No, you first.

  • Moderate

    The GOP cannot allow Pawlenty to be the candidate. He will get blown out of the water, and will be responsible for a large number of lost GOP seats. Any chance to meaningfully reform PPACA or Medicare will be lost for at least four years.

    /would prefer Romney/Daniels

  • midcon

    Is it too early to talk about 2016? 2012 is such a waste. Given the current crop in the GOP, why bother? I wish someone exciting would run in 2012. Like maybe Bachman or even better O’Donnell. Anyone to inject some life into the race. I don’t even want any ideas or platform or anything, just their presence. They don’t have to have a chance of winning. In fact it would be more fun if they didn’t. So the worse the better. O’Donnell turned town DWTS. I wonder if she would in for a run?

    • ottovbvs

      My father who was a very trad New England Republican always reckoned the party establishment gave Goldwater the nomination in ’64 by default because they knew no one had the slightest chance of beating Johnson and so they took the view let the loony right self destruct and then maybe we can get back to business as usual. Fundamentally I’m sure this is correct. We’ll see if history repeats itself.

      • think4yourself

        I think Otto has it right – who would want to be the GOP candidate? The only way you can win the Primary is either by kissing up to the Tea Party (formerly disguised as the Evangelical movement, much as they protest their not) and being pulled hard to the right while the President looks like the voice of reason in the middle or the GOP nominee can commit Hari Kari by taking on the Tea Party.

        Maybe the calculation is that the better move is to wait till 2016, don’t have to tackle an incumbent, hope that a shellacking in 2012 brings the right wing under control, hope that your stronger opponents (Christie, Rubio, Jindal, etc.) make a mistake and that a new one (Nikki Haley?) doesn’t emerge, hope the economy improves enough that the Republicans in congress can take credit for it, but not enough that the Dems can take credit for it.

        • ottovbvs

          Do you know who’ll be running for the Dem nomination in ’16? Hillary. Mark my words. In fact it’s even crossed my mind Obama might do a switcheroo with her and Biden next year.

        • Watusie

          How many more times does she have to say “no” before people start to believe she means it.

          She will be far too old in 2016. Harsh & unfair, but true.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Can someone explain to me the attraction the national GOP has with Tim Pawlenty?

    Yeah he won two terms as governor of a Midwestern center-left state, but both wins came with large thanks to the state’s quirk of an established third party running liberals that took away votes from the Democratic candidates.

  • behaha

    Remember, though, that Lincoln was “everybody’s second choice.”

  • think4yourself

    BTW, assuming an Obama win in 2012, an intriguing ticket for 2016 would be Christie/Nikki Haley. Yes, it’s East Coast, but you cover North/South, plus white, ethnic, female and both will have executive management experience at the state level. Both are taking office now and will have 6 years during which the economy should turn around that they can take credit for. Neither are in the Tea Party pocket like Palin or Bachman, yet both are liked by the Tea Party. That’s contingent on neither making a mistake as governors and who gets to be Pres/VP. That would be a formidable ticket for the Dems to overcome.

    Also intriguing is Rubio to either of those though I suspect that Haley/Rubio is too concentrated in the South and frankly too ethnic for the GOP.

    • Saladdin

      Think,

      I like you’re idea, but the GOP electing a non anti-choice candidate who doesn’t want to eliminate CB rights and likes Muslims is fantastical. I see Christie/Jindal for some reason.

    • ottovbvs

      “will have 6 years during which the economy should turn around that they can take credit for. ”

      Er… a democratic president has been in office for 8 years and Republicans claim credit for the turnaround? How does this happen?

  • Tempest in a Frumpot

    think4yourself, Christie won’t run. He is way too unhealthy. He has to huff on an inhaler constantly, has high blood pressure, high everything. He also has to either finish his first term and run on that (which ain’t much) or lie to the voters and say he won’t run and then run (and it is possible he won’t win a second term, which would really sink him) He has been in office a little more than a year, his act will wear thin fast. And Christie is a jerk, there are way too many youtube videos of him berating ordinary citizens, that might play well with the base but I defy you showing me one video of Reagan, either Bush, Clinton, or Obama berating ordinary citizens. Hell, Obama treated plumber Joe with nothing but respect.

  • JeninCT

    I think you all are forgetting how L-O-N-G the 2008 primary lasted and how fatigued everyone was from the nonstop battle between Obama and Hillary. All the candidates are waiting a little longer to avoid the appearance of the perennial campaign.

    Also, remember that both Huntsman and Trump have to wait until June to jump in. It’s still early.

  • anniemargret

    Pawlenty…..Boorrrrrrring!

  • buddyglass

    I’m still thinking Romney. But we’ll see.

  • Stewardship

    Had Pawlenty stayed true to his own vision and his own history, then he’d have a shot. Too much evidence of flip-flopping on tape. The winner in 12 is the person who will appeal to the independents and moderates. Adopting the tea party platform might get you through the primary, but it is going to sink you in the general.

  • Russnet

    Too early to tell. Pawlenty needs to impress on the national stage. He had zero name recognition until some considered him as a running mate for McCain.

    To be sure, I would vote for Pawlenty over Obama.

    • ottovbvs

      I can see you’re a very intelligent guy Mr Russnet. You’d vote someone you know next to nothing about over someone whose steered the country intelligently and wisely for two years, even if you don’t agree with his policies. Is this how you pick babysitters?

  • midwest guy

    Pawlenty declined to run again for MN governor because he knew he would not be re-elected. To describe his record as governor as “fine” is frankly not consistent with the facts, and most certainly not consistent with Minnesota voter sentiments. He was not seen as strong, not seen as honorable, not seen as consistent, and absolutely not seen as a state leader. He abandoned the state house position for most of his last 18 months he was ostensibly in office, offending the few remaining friends he had in St. Paul. The pandering and disingenuous nature of his candidacy is among the most offensive and insincere of any current GOP hopeful. At least Palin had the dignity to resign her governorship when she realized she was no longer interested in functioning as Governor. Pawlenty drew his salary and benefits while working full time as a Presidential candidate, which has been widely seen in Minnesota as a wholesale abandonment of responsibility——Certainly not the kind of behavior we want to see from our leaders……… How does anybody propose that Mr. Pawlenty’s extremely weak record and incapacity to be re-elected qualify him to step up to a much more challenging position? If this is the best the GOP has, there is real trouble ahead.

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  • _will_

    Pawlenty has done more flip-flopping than Mitt, and his bowing and scraping for the Religious Right is both transparent and pathetic. The mouth-breathers might still vote for him because he’s not brown and his name isn’t quite as weird as a gal-darned Kenyun named Obamar, but anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together will be offended by Pawlenty’s lame pandering. Or they certainly should be offended, if they have any self-respect.

  • mfinley98

    In Minnesota Pawlenty is in disfavor. He anticipated Walker two years ago, canceling the Legislature’s budget and filling in the blanks by fiat. It looked very undemocratic to voters here, and was later ruled unconstitutional.

    He acts “pleasant,” but deep down he’s an angry dude.

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