David Graham tries making the case for Pawlenty as the “Goldilocks” choice for running mate, and says this at one point:
It’s easy to forget how strong Pawlenty once appeared.
It’s easy to forget this because it was never true. He appeared strong only to journalists and pundits, and his “strength” was always his dull conventionality. The argument in favor of Pawlenty’s candidacy was that he checked off all the necessary boxes and was otherwise bland and inoffensive. There was a belief in early 2011 that this would make him the natural consensus alternative to Romney, as all these same journalists and pundits believed Romney would have great difficulty winning the nomination because of his health care record. In other words, they viewed Pawlenty as a “Goldilocks” candidate, and regarded him as an acceptable compromise nominee.
As it turns out, being the “Goldilocks” candidate isn’t all that desirable in presidential politics. Many pundits believed Pawlenty to be electable, but no one wanted to vote for him. They said that he was “conservative enough,” but there weren’t many actual conservatives that preferred him over his competitors. He played the role of top-tier candidate that he had been undeservedly assigned, only to find that very few voters found him interesting or worth supporting. In the end, he tried to run an insurgent campaign as a virtual Romney clone in full pandering mode, and there was simply no constituency for that.
Pundits and journalists placed far too much importance on ideological factors in the nominating contest while often ignoring or downplaying campaign organization and fundraising. This caused them to see Pawlenty as the major top-tier candidate he was never going to be. George Will went farthest out on this treacherous limb of speculation to insist with “reasonable certainty” that the next President would be one of the following: Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, or Barack Obama. The latest rounds of Pawlenty boosterism in VP speculation suffer from the same overestimation of Pawlenty’s value. Graham’s review of the early 2011 commentary on Pawlenty is a useful reminder of how consistently people across the political spectrum have wrongly imagined him to be far more politically appealing than he is.