With many Republicans pining for a knight in shining armor to parachute into the 2012 race and save us from the (perceived) weakness of the candidate field, has the party overlooked an answer right under its collective nose? Stanley Kurtz, of the NRO Corner, thinks so:
“Wake up, Republicans! The answer to your prayers is already running. And if all the pundits would just stop fantasizing for a minute about everyone who’s not running, maybe they’d pay more attention to who actually is.”
…Tim Pawlenty has already beaten the Democrats in a government shut-down battle. He’s defeated public-employee unions in a high-stakes strike. He was regularly rated as one of the most fiscally conservative governors in the nation. And he managed to do it all in a blue state. Pawlenty is Scott Walker with experience. It’s just that nobody knows it because Pawlenty’s clashes with his state’s public unions and big Democratic spenders happened some time ago. If anything, Pawlenty ought to be getting extra credit for having faced down public-employee unions and profligate Democratic legislators before it was cool.
I like that analogy; just like Rudy Giuliani’s supporters profess, “He was Chris Christie before it was cool,” Pawlenty was Scott Walker before it was cool.
Kurtz concludes with the following:
If he does win, it will be the first time we’ve ever had a president from that kind of urban, blue-collar immigrant background. Reminds me of folks in Pittsburgh, where I grew up.
It also reminds me of Chicago, where I grew up; my parents fall into the category of “urban, blue-collar immigrant background”. Fortuitously for Pawlenty, so do the families of many people in the Midwest, a region undoubtedly essential to the GOP’s chances in 2012.
I also highly recommend the Ramesh Ponnuru piece referenced in the above article. It summarizes the Governor’s background and provides a balanced analysis of him as a candidate. At the risk of making this post too lengthy, I give you the following highlights:
Governor Pawlenty dealt with a Democratic senate for his entire two terms and a Democratic house for his second one. But “dealt with” may not be the best choice of words. Pawlenty set a record for vetoes, partly shutting down the government during a budget battle in 2005. During another budget fight, this one in 2009, Pawlenty withstood pressure from the two previous Republican governors of Minnesota — both well to his left — to agree to raise taxes. He took on the transit workers’ union, which believed that the state should have to provide its members with health insurance for life after 15 years on the job. It went on strike, and lost.
Pawlenty guided Minnesota’s political culture firmly and sharply to the right. From 1960 to 2003, when Pawlenty took over, the state budget grew, on average, by 21 percent every two years. Under Pawlenty that average fell to 4 percent. Some fees rose, and so did cigarette taxes, but Pawlenty managed to resist all income-tax increases. He is one of four governors to get an A on the Cato Institute’s most recent “fiscal-policy report card.” Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is widely lauded in Republican circles as a budget-cutter. But in each year they were both governor, Cato ranked Pawlenty ahead of Daniels.
Larry Jacobs, who studies politics at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School, comments, “In Minnesota, Pawlenty was always seen as the state’s most charismatic and politically talented politician. Here’s a guy who was a conservative fending off often large Democratic majorities and [he] consistently had over 50 percent approval and dominated public debate. He had a remarkable knack for appealing to people on non-political grounds. . . . Mostly it was the way he talked about public policy and politics. People who fundamentally disagreed with him on public policy found him appealing.”
…The theme of Pawlenty’s presidential campaign so far is that Americans, especially those of middle income, are losing faith in the country’s future. Rising debt, the disappearance of the “strong back” jobs his father and his father’s friends once relied on, the suspicion that free markets are giving way to “crony capitalism”: All have eroded Americans’ confidence in their system.
He also adds some intriguing comparisons of Pawlenty to two other governors most often cited as his chief potential competition: Romney and Daniels:
Like Romney, Pawlenty was elected governor of a blue state in 2002. But there are at least five big differences between them that primary voters may find tell in the Minnesotan’s favor. First, Pawlenty was elected as a conservative whereas Romney ran as a moderate. Second, Pawlenty pursued a more confrontational strategy: He didn’t cut any grand bipartisan deal, as Romney did with Ted Kennedy on health care. Third, and as a result, Pawlenty’s record does not include anything as likely to offend conservative voters as Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law, which made the purchase of health insurance compulsory.
Fourth, Pawlenty won reelection in his blue state, even in 2006, which was a slaughterhouse of a year for Republicans. Romney, by contrast, left the governorship after one term: He was unable to position himself as a conservative for a presidential run while staying popular in his home state. Fifth, Pawlenty has an ability to connect to blue-collar voters that Romney has never demonstrated.
Governor Daniels could be competitive with Pawlenty in a side-by-side comparison. But Pawlenty is in some respects a more impressive political figure. Indiana is a red state that will almost certainly vote for any Republican nominee in 2012; Daniel has never had to win over blue-state voters as Pawlenty did. And Pawlenty has better relations with social conservatives than Daniels does.
Ponnuru may have something with his assessment of Pawlenty vs. Daniels; many individuals – myself included – would argue that T-Paw actually has a more impressive record on spending than Mitch. The primary difference between the two revolves around Daniels’ willingness – even eagerness – to deliver the cold, hard facts with no sugarcoating. To the cynics among us, this appears refreshing and charming. However, we must ask ourselves: do we really want to risk general election success simply for a desire to avoid “typical politician” behavior in our nominee?
In a time when the Republican Party hopes to enact reforms that fundamentally affect voters’ pocketbooks and lend themselves to easy demagoguery, we must not ignore Pawlenty’s blue collar credibility, especially when juxtaposed with Gov. Romney; on a visceral level, the average American will find him/herself more willing to evaluate and accept policy proposals like entitlement reform and corporate tax reductions when they come from a candidate who they feel understands their concerns on a personal level.
And for those who point to T-Paw’s supposed blandness, I offer a few responses:
1. Nobody in the GOP field can match up to President Obama when it comes to soaring oratory, pomp, and theatrics, especially when he has the media in his pocket, ready to assist with spin strategies.
2. Perhaps the American public will adhere to the theory that voters find themselves drawn to candidates that look, sound, and feel like the opposite of their current leaders.
3. Pawlenty can sling the red meat and rile up a crowd when he wants and needs to. Just take a look at this speech he delivered over two years ago (h/t to the amazing Matthew Miller, who passed this along to the Race community a long time ago):