Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Who Is Tim Pawlenty?

In the 2012 prognostications, Tim Pawlenty has sometimes been an afterthought. It’s not for lack of earnestness or for lack of a good track record as governor. He has both. But he’s yet to break through the clutter and explain why him — rather than Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, or Mitt Romney. That may change over time, and each of those four may fizzle or decide against a run. Pawlenty is inching closer to a decision, in the same methodical fashion in which he governed:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has not made a final decision on whether to make a White House bid, but he’s laying the groundwork and is confident he could run a serious and well-funded campaign if he decides to go ahead.

In a meeting with reporters last week in San Diego, Pawlenty said he is still contemplating whether he is the right person to lead the country out of an economic crisis.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet. I mean, we’re obviously looking at it. But as to whether we do it or don’t do it, I’m not going to make up my mind internally for probably a few months yet,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve got a set of experiences and skills that might benefit the country. But, I haven’t made a decision whether I’m the right person to do that, whether I’m the only person who can do that.”

For now, Pawlenty is mainly defined as what the other candidates are not. Sarah Palin quit the governorship, but Pawlenty makes the case that the key issue will be “‘as you look at the personal and political records of those individuals, what does that tell you about their fortitude personally? Do they have the record to actually back up the rhetoric?’ Pawlenty asked. ‘In other words, are they just giving you pretty rhetoric or do they actually get it done?’” He’s a Midwesterner from a Purple State, not a Southerner from a deep Red State as is Barbour. He’s been uncompromising on social issues rather than suggesting that such issues are irrelevant as McDaniels did. And he’s never supported ObamaCare lite. But being “not flawed like each of the others” isn’t likely to deliver the nomination.

Pawlenty could use a theme and a distinct persona. Once he has those, he would do well to start communicating what he is all about to the conservative electorate. If he doesn’t, he’s going to soon drift into the also-ran category, or if he’s solid (but unexceptional) on the campaign trail, the short list for VP candidates.