T-Paw: The Generic GOP Choice?

March 18th, 2011 at 12:12 pm David Frum | 37 Comments |

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Real Clear Politics offers a clear summation of the Kristol-Barbour spat.

But it’s easy to read this story upside down. The real news here is not the Kristol-Barbour falling out. It is the Kristol-Pawlenty falling in.

As for Pawlenty, he seems to be a sincere Reaganite, and has been for quite a while. What’s interesting is his leaping at the occasion to get in a little dust-up with Barbour. This suggests a degree of nimbleness and boldness that speaks well for his prospects to move from the second tier to the first. You could do worse than run as the heir of Reagan-Bush-McCain hawkishness, against a weak and dithering Obama administration, and you could do worse than bet that at some point in the primary process voters will remember they’re electing a commander in chief, not just (important as the budget issues are) an OMB director.

This is the same Tim Pawlenty who clears every utterance on tax policy with Grover Norquist, who has called for the reinstatement of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, and who has repudiated his own prior leadership on climate change. (“Have I changed my position? Yes.”)

What we are witnessing is the unfolding of a Pawlenty campaign strategy to occupy the spot that once seemed reserved for John Thune: the most generic of all Republicans, the sole remainder after every constituency in the GOP has exercised its veto: the tax people, the life people, the gun people, the defense people, the anti-Obamacare people, etc. etc. etc. Along the way, a successful, pragmatic Midwestern governor has had to reinvent himself, down to his own voice and accent.

Bill Kristol describes this as Reaganism. But Ronald Reagan imposed himself on a party, he was not the product of a party. Pawlenty’s current strategy might more aptly be compared to that of Reagan’s 1984 opponent, Walter Mondale: the party’s least objectionable man, or rather the man least objectionable to everyone in the party with the power to express an objection.

UPDATE: A special message to reader Couchmaster: I did not “rip” NPR for doing the Pawlenty accent story. I made a joke that this kind of reporting would further motivate Republicans to attack their funding. I should have remembered Bob Bartley’s rule of journalism: Never joke in print, you can always count on 20% of the readers not to get it.

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37 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Kristol aways wrong about everything. Pawlenty is doomed.

    He has also turned into a giant panderer, has anyone noticed he is now speaking with a Southern drawl. A bit like Bush’s fake Texas accent but worse.

    Thinking Americans don’t like fakes.

  • Watusie

    I think I’ve spotted a problem. Namely, the Pawlenty has zero – possibly even less than zero – credibility as commander-in-chief.

    Never forget that Obama became president in large part becasue of his brave and prophetic public speech in 2002 about what a fiasco intervention in Iraq would turn out to be.

    Where is Pawlenty’s similar moment?

  • CouchMaster

    Not to sound too petty David, but yesterday you were ripping NPR for posting a story on TPaw’s affected accent and today you are using it as a point in a story.

  • Saladdin

    Aren’t T-Paw speeches what they use to put people to sleep?

  • Banty

    I remember a Billy Kristol column in the NYT back in early ’90 (or was it late ’08? oh well, it was after the Crash and before NYT came to their senses about who might provide a cogent Conservative viewpoint) wherein he straight-facedly advocated cranking up military spending as the sole economic stimulus. Not because of any threat he identified, mind; rather it was because he acknowledged the need for some stimulus, but only recognized defense as a legitimate government avenue for it.

    This sort of thing, and a propensity to just be a mouthpiece for current Rep talking points, made me lose all respect for the younger Mr. Kristol.

  • mlindroo

    A particular worldview is about to get tested, if Pawlenty does win the GOP primaries.

    According to conventional GOP wisdom, a full spectrum conservative “always” wins since America is a center-right nation. Only RINOs such as McCain, Dole or George H W Bush lose. Pawlenty might be slightly boring and remains largely unknown, but he certainly is a “full-spectrum conservative” without any ideological or personal skeletons in his closet. So if Rush Limbaugh & co. are correct, Pawlenty will annihilate Barack Hussein Obama next year regardless of the state of the U.S. economy.


  • elizajane

    You know somebody is desperate when, in endorsing a candidate, they keep using the phrase “you could do worse.”

  • Gus

    Pawlenty’s run for the White House as observed by a Minnesotan has been hilarious. He quite obviously made his mind up that he was going to run as soon as the ’08 election was over, but he’s been denying that his mind is made up. He was largely awol as Minnesota’s governor the last couple years of his term, preferring to campaign (numerous trips to early primary states) instead. Even many conservatives in Minnesota are disgusted with his constant campaigning. He’s touted among conservatives as a two-term governor of a nominally blue state (last time a Republican presidential candidate carried Minnesota was 1972), but what those people fail to appreciate is he never won 50% of the vote here, and he left us with a $6 billion dollar budget hole. The last poll I saw that pitted him against Obama in his home state had him losing. He’s about as principled as Romney. He’ll take any stance that scores him electoral points (as Mr. Frum points out regarding his climate change non-stance). He signed a no new taxes pledge, so when he raised cigarette taxes, he showed what kind of a weasel he is by calling it a “health impact fee.” A Pawlenty speech is a sure cure for insomnia, and talk about clumsy (we could learn from Ellin woods and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government” possibly the worst metaphor I’ve ever heard). Of course, since I’ve never seen any sign that Bill Kristol has any actual principles, Pawlenty is his ideal candidate. Given the cast of losers shaping up as the Republican presidential field for ’12, he’s as good a placeholder as any to lose in a landslide, I guess.

  • Saladdin

    Pawlenty’s current strategy might more aptly be compared to that of Reagan’s 1984 opponent, Walter Mondale: the party’s least objectionable man, or rather the man least objectionable to everyone in the party with the power to express an objection.

    And we all know how well that turned out for Mondale. Another bland, boring candidate v. an electrifying speaker? Can’t see any good for the GOP.

    Maybe Pawlenty 1.0 will be back after the primaries. May be too late then.

  • ceartas

    T-Paw? Really? Is that his RAP moniker? Is it supposed to make him more interesting?

    Still yawning.

    BTW, Dave, what’s YOUR street handle?

  • hisgirlfriday

    This reminded me of a hilarious recent Colbert bit on Pawlenty’s goofy commercials for his book and in support of Scott Walker. Colbert hits the nail right on the head when he says Pawlenty isn’t running to be president of the United States, he’s running to be president of the United States in a new Transformers movie.

    I’d highly recommend anyone who needs a laugh this Friday afternoon to check it out.


    • JosephP

      That Colbert clip is absolutely hysterical! Thanks, Fri.

      I especially love the way Colbert skewers the over-the-top production level of Pawlenty’s (non) campaign commercial by showing the actual video of Pawlenty’s speech that is used as a voice over. It’s like comparing a big budget Hollywood blockbuster to a home movie shot on a cell phone camera.

      Also hysterical is Colbert’s spoof on Pawlenty’s ad, which incorporates just about every pop-culture image of the last century, from Charlton Heston’s Moses to Dramatic Chipmunk.

  • Rob_654

    “a sincere Reaganite”

    OMG – you mean he is going to raise taxes, spend us into a larger deficit, pay only lip service to the Social Conservatives, but will make us “feel good” about the time we spent with him?

  • tom78212

    Listen – I’m one of those people who has always thought Obama is boring. I mean BORING!!! I did not vote for him (actually didn’t vote for anyone for president altho’ I tho’t I should vote for Ralph just for old times sake). But Pawlenty??? Pu-leeze… he is so friggin’ boring. Listen – I can’t stand Palin or Bachman for obvious reasons but at least i can’t say they’re boring. The GOP has no one to head their ticket that I would even consider voting for… I mean look at ‘em… Romney – that fat guy from Mississippi – the adulterers Gingrich (now born again) and Giuliani… and I can’t even bring myself to write the name of that idiot from Arkansas. Come on conservatives – give me someone who has a brain.

  • tom78212

    Oh – forgot to mention … Bill Kristol – the guy who gets noticed because his parents were famous??? Who even thinks Kristol ever has something to write about – let alone say. Now we’re talking REALLY boring.

  • Moderate

    I don’t have strong feelings about Pawlenty, but one things irks me.

    Why does anyone care what Bill Kristol thinks? He’s partially to blame for giving the GOP Sarah Palin! There couldn’t have been a more reckless, cynical calculation, and it’s going to take a long time to undo that mistake.

    [Edit: Unlike JimBob below, I don't blame neoconservatism for Bill Kristol, any more than I blame liberalism for Al Sharpton. Every large group has its aberrations.]

  • JimBob

    Time to purge the hideous Bill Kristol out of polite society. The man is a menace!! The NeoCons are a plague on decent society.

  • JosephP

    Like Kristol’s vigorous support of Sara Palin last election, his current propagandizing for Pawlenty only illustrates Kristol’s contempt for the American people.

  • mlindroo

    > Why does anyone care what Bill Kristol thinks?
    > He’s partially to blame for giving the GOP Sarah Palin!
    > There couldn’t have been a more reckless, cynical calculation,
    > and it’s going to take a long time to undo that mistake.

    Palin is nothing compared to the invasion of Iraq…Kristol predicted “we’ll be greeted as liberators”, that the Shia/Sunni conflict was overrated “pop sociology”, that the occupation of Iraq would cost only a few billion dollars etc..

    Conservatives controlled all branches of government in 2000-06 and the result was…less than spectacular. Which GOP faction deserves most of the blame — Wall Street, social conservatism or the Bill Kristol wing? There is more than enough blame to go around but I’d say neoconservatism was by far the greatest factor.


  • JimBob

    Wall Street is more Democrat. The 3.5 wings of the GOP are Social Cons, National Security(NeoCons) and libertarian. There are very few true blue NeoCons, but they’re every where in the media and think tanks. You can be a national security conservative without being a NeoCon. The libertarians are the smallest faction in the GOP today. I don’t think Goldwater or Reagan could get the Republican nomination these days.

  • dugfromthearth

    Huckabee is going to get the GOP nomination. He’s too nice to attack, friendly enough to be non-threatening, while still holding (or willing to pretend to hold) whatever crazy ideas the base wants him to have.

    • politicalfan

      Huckabee (He should get the nomination) but if he goes off on the wild train again, it will not sway Independents. He needs to stay in the smart zone. His sway to ‘gain the negative rhetoric crown’ is obvious and painful. Trying to rain on Palin’s parade?

      • ram6968

        in a speech during the “08″ campaign, huckabee said he wanted to modify the bill of rights to reflect the ten commandments…..don’t let this man near the white house

  • politicalfan

    Why don’t the reporters just ask him, “What’s up with the accent?”

    Maybe he is just following a fellow Republican that lost her election in 2008. I think she is the guideline for a lot of these guys. That is really funny. Actually it is silly. I guess if they lose they will take to facebook and write books. Actually that part is pretty smart.

    However, if I was the former fellow Republican whose material was being ripped off. I would work harder on the trademark and authoring a new book on political maneuvers for beginners. Or, I would just watch a ton of Reagan films, old videos and speeches. Hire Peggy Noonan stat and think substance and forget negative rhetorical influences of 2008.

  • larry

    Pawlenty has formed a false but very favorable impression of his own abilities. He hopes to find the incantations, which, whatever they may consist in, will gain him a nomination and a chance at the gold ring. This will require double-talk, contradiction, back-tracking, quackery, humility before an unspecified deity, false data, and, withal, demagoguery as required. That’s GOP politics these days. Any serious concern for the great republic is beside the point.

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  • JimBob

    Pawlenty is not serious. There’s no way we can balance the budget without deep cuts in defense.

  • ottovbvs

    This storm in a thimble is really just another symptom of how thin the Republican field really is. When is one of them actually going to say I’m running (or runnin) for president. It’s entirely a toss up whether the GOP go for the lowest common denominator like Pawlenty or take the death ride with Huckabee/Palin/Gingrich. The dynamics here are fairly clear. The establishment and “strategists” want the lowest common denominator who loses respectably and doesn’t do too much damage down the ticket and are scared s***** by the prospect of a death ride.

  • jjv

    I think this analysis is 90% correct. The 10% is “you say it like it was a bad thing.” We have a potential field of very “hot” personalities all of whom could become the issue. Palin draws too much fire (not least from FF!). Newt is mercurial and no one can be sure there will not be some personal pecadillo or strange enthusiasm at crucial moments. Romney is a chamelion. He is far more open to the charge of pandering than Pawlenty and he won two states last time in the primaries. We need not even mention health care. I love Rick Santorum but he is way too Catholic to be President and his personality is not winning enough to make up for positions that are far to Right for the current electorate. Haley Barbour would make a great President but a competent, savy, lobbyist who looks and sounds like Boss Hogg is not going to win the Presidency. Governor Daniels is 5 ’7 and it might have worked for James Madison but he was not on television next to a podium with Barack Obama. He also seems to be kicking away the socons for no reason given his record. Herman Cain is the Kucinich of the Republican Party without the electoral success. How are the Democrats going to demonize Pawlenty? He’s from that hotbed of rightwingery—Minessotta? If this election is about Obama and his record Republicans can win. If it is about the Republican nominee being weird they won’t. Tim Pawlenty would threaten in Iowa, Minnessota, and Wisconsin. If Obama loses any two of those he loses the election. I know virtually nothing about Pawlenty except the Minessota right-wing is wary of him and he won two terms there. If he has to tack right with Grover to get the nomination so be it. Pawlenty for steady Republican predictability-Rubio for Veep and Obama can work on his third memoir.

  • mlindroo

    > Huckabee is going to get the GOP nomination.
    > He’s too nice to attack, friendly enough to be non-threatening,
    >while still holding (or willing to pretend to hold) whatever crazy ideas the base wants him to have.

    I agree Huck would be the GOP’s most dangerous weapon thanks to his folksy, friendly demeanor. However, he abhors fundraising and the Wall Street money elite distrusts his views on the economy. I think he occasionally raised taxes in Arkansas, and he is clearly not pretending to be an economic libertarian like the rest.

    The only perfect “full spectrum” conservative remains Pawlenty.


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