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.