Commentary Magazine


Can Pawlenty Broaden His Appeal?

Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico have stories today on the rising stock of Tim Pawlenty as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, and whether that increases his odds of being asked to join the GOP ticket. Though the Romney campaign claimed at first it was casting a very wide net for the VP slot, that doesn’t appear to (still) be the case. If, as recent reports indicate, Marco Rubio is out of the running, Pawlenty’s buzz seems to have survived a process that has narrowed the field quite a bit; that alone is reason to think he’s being considered seriously.

And the Journal and Politico stories note the obvious Pawlenty appeal: modest roots; easygoing and personable; executive experience; blue-collar bona fides; and his friendship with Romney. Pawlenty has always been a charmer–in person. But one of the main reasons his candidacy’s value didn’t translate from the paper to the stage was his seeming inability to project his charisma to a national audience. In Mike Allen and Evan Thomas’s e-book about the GOP presidential primaries, the authors write that Pawlenty didn’t seem to be enjoying the national circus at all:

One of Pawlenty’s top advisers questioned whether the candidate’s heart was really in the race. Pawlenty always seemed to want to get back to the hotel to see if there was a good hockey game he could watch in the sports bar with this body man, this adviser said. On the day before the Ames, Iowa, straw poll on August 13, 2011, which the Pawlenty team had targeted as make-or-break, with thousands of hands still to shake, Pawlenty wanted to quit early, said this adviser. His spokesman, Alex Conant, did not dispute this, though he offered a more benign explanation. “Unlike every candidate I’ve ever worked for, he wanted to make sure that there was ample downtime and that the days were not so long that by the end of them he was not making sense anymore,” said Conant.

When I wrote about this in November, I suggested Pawlenty may have been a bit too “normal” for a presidential campaign. Politico’s story paints Pawlenty as having much more fun as a Romney surrogate than as a candidate, which is a good sign he is more relaxed. But if he is chosen for the vice presidential nomination, he’ll have to go back to campaigning rigorously on his own–as well as Romney’s–behalf, if only because of the increased level of scrutiny to which Republican vice presidential picks are subjected.