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The Political Weaknesses of Tim “Goldilocks” Pawlenty

David Graham tries making the case [1] 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 [2] on this treacherous limb of speculation to insist [3] 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 [4] 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.

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7 Comments To "The Political Weaknesses of Tim “Goldilocks” Pawlenty"

#1 Comment By Jack Ross On August 6, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

How is this more or less true of him then anyone else?

#2 Comment By Gus On August 6, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

Well said. Any Minnesotan could have disabused the pundits of the belief in TPaw’s strengths. All one need to remember to dismiss him from VP consideration is the word “Obamneycare.”

#3 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 6, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

“How is this more or less true of him then anyone else?”

There have been candidates whose hype has greatly exceeded their ability to live up to it. Huntsman and Giuliani come to mind as other candidates that had very little support, but were treated as “serious” candidates because the people talking them up wanted them to be viewed that way. Some politicians gain support over time without relying so heavily on flattering media coverage to do it.

#4 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 6, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

Are you saying George Will was wrong to say that, with “reasonable certainty,” the next President would be Pawlenty, Daniels or Obama? Personally I think he’ll be vindicated on that one.

#5 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 6, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

He may be partially vindicated if Obama wins, but his speculation about Pawlenty and Daniels had no basis in reality. Daniels wasn’t a candidate when he said that, and would never be one. Will was promoting poor or undeclared candidates that he happened to prefer. The implication of his prediction was that only Daniels or Pawlenty could defeat Obama, and I think you will agree that this doesn’t make sense.

#6 Comment By SteveM On August 6, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

Also, when chicken hawk Little Timmy Pawlenty was considering running, his war-monger schtick was running in over-drive.

Romney and Pawlenty in office with rank militarist John Bolton whispering sweet “power projection” nothings in their ears? Not good…

#7 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 6, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

Of course I agree — just a little snark from a liberal lurker.