Jonah Goldberg echoes Chotiner that Pawlenty missed his chance (via Joseph Lawler):

His problem stemmed from the fact that he’s a vanilla guy who thought he needed to convince conservatives he was a more exciting flavor. He should have waited, because vanilla may not be anyone’s first choice, but it’s almost everyone’s second choice.

While there is something to the common view of Pawlenty as a boring candidate, this gets Pawlenty’s political problem almost completely wrong. He didn’t think he needed to convince conservatives that he was something other than “vanilla.” He assumed that being a three-legs-of-the-stool cardboard cut-out candidate was all that was required, and he believed that his bland, official acceptability and Romney’s untrustworthy reputation would be enough to propel him to victory. He campaigned in much the same way that Romney did in 2007-08, except that he couldn’t conceal the weakness of his candidacy with impressive fundraising. When running to be the alternative to Romney in 2011, it probably would help not to run more or less as the earlier version of Romney.

There’s something quite odd about retrospectively arguing for the plausibility of a candidacy that has already failed. Expressing regret for Pawlenty’s supposed missed opportunity is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the definitions of “plausible” and “credible” that many people have been using to talk about some Republican candidates are disconnected from political realities. Lamenting Pawlenty’s exit is an exercise in pretending that Pawlenty’s failure as a candidate didn’t actually happen.