Much of the commentary about Tim Pawlenty in the last three days has centered on whether or not the former Minnesota governor can recover from his abysmal performance in the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire on Monday. Pawlenty’s defenders believe that the memory of the awkward moment when he froze when asked to back up strong criticisms of rival Mitt Romney will soon fade.
While positive spin was to be expected from Pawlenty’s camp, even as sharp an observer as Rush Limbaugh dismissed the furor over Pawlenty’s refusal to repeat his denunciation of Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill as “Obamneycare” to his face. Limbaugh claimed this week that it was all the invention of liberal journalists who wanted more internecine warfare between the candidates rather than a chorus of condemnation of President Obama.
But though Rush’s instincts are usually on target when it comes to scoping out the Republican lineup, the problem here is that it was conservatives who were more turned off by Pawlenty’s timidity when given the opportunity to take on his main rival than anyone on the left. After all, it was conservatives who blasted Romney’s lame attempt to draw a distinction between his Massachusetts legislation and Obamacare. Rather than an invitation to a “food fight,” as Pawlenty’s backer Vin Webber put it, this was Pawlenty’s chance to hammer this point home and he flubbed it, leaving viewers with the impression that he was the sort of person who would talk about a rival behind his back but wasn’t man enough to say the same words to his face.