Ben Smith notices an early Pawlenty blunder:
REPORTER: U.S. foreign policy towards Iran [unintelligible] how would you address contradictions in the U.S? On the one hand we are opposing Iranian policy, but on the other hand by U.S. reconfigurating that part of the world we made Iran dominating Iraq and now we are pinning it on dominating of Pakistan. How would you address this contradiction in our foreign policy?
PAWLENTY: You’re talking about Iran?
PAWLENTY: Yeah, well I think the situation now in Iran is such that Secretary Gates is negotiating with whether the United States military will be there beyond the end of this year. And they’re looking to the Iranians to see if they invite the Americans to stay, invite us to stay. And if they do invite us to stay at some very reduced level I think the United States will be wise, until we make sure that they get to the next level of stability, to accept that invitation. So if Iran makes that invitation by the end of the year, leaving a residual force, a greatly reduced force, but a residual force that would be there for a temporary amount of time. Until they could establish much better air security, until they can develop their intelligence —
The reporter corrects him at this point, and Pawlenty gamely tries to recover. The most that can be said for Pawlenty in this episode is that he is giving better foreign policy answers than Herman Cain. It’s also fair to say that he’s already doing worse than then-Gov. Bush was doing at this point in 1999. It’s pretty clear that he was rehearsing a bad answer on the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, which had almost nothing to do with the question he was asked. He was asked a question about contradictions in U.S. regional policy related to the expansion of Iranian influence, and he wasn’t even attempting to answer that question. He went through his answer substituting the words Iran and Iranians without missing a beat, and that is probably because his grasp of these subjects remains very superficial. If it had just been the name of the country, everyone might be able to shrug it off as a slip of the tongue, but it was more than that.
Can someone explain to me why Pawlenty has been granted the automatic status of being one of the three “serious” Republican candidates? When an acknowledged long-shot candidate flubs something like this, it gets reported and the candidate takes some hits, but no one thinks it matters very much because the long-shot is never going to get anywhere near the nomination. For whatever reason, Pawlenty’s candidacy has been taken seriously from the beginning. As Pawlenty’s foreign policy understanding is placed under greater scrutiny and most likely found lacking, will journalists continue to take his candidacy seriously?