Pawlenty's Problem
I have written frequently about Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty over the past year, in an attempt to assess his political potential as a Republican presidential nominee for 2012. I’ve noted that as a conservative governor in a state that is not exactly a hotbed of movement conservatism, Pawlenty holds out the possibility of real crossover appeal as a general election candidate, something that I don’t really see in any of the other current frontrunners, with perhaps the exception of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (on a good day).
In fact, there was a time shortly after Senator John McCain’s loss in 2008 that Pawlenty seemed to be moving quite quickly and visibly to challenge Romney as the likely future leader of the GOP. Yet, even after significant exposure among Republican political elites, Pawlenty remains well-respected, but not particularly well-supported in that quest.
As I’ve also noted, Pawlenty has a singular knack for seeming awkward and uncomfortable when engaging in the heated Democrat-bashing of tea partyism and/or movement conservatism, and herein lays the problem for the governor. As conservative columnist (and former George W. Bush chief speechwriter) Michael Gerson suggests in today’s Washington Post, Pawlenty’s reasonable, (some might say bland) nice-guy demeanor increasingly seems like a poor fit for the angry anti-incumbent mood of the current conservative activist (and primary-voting) base of the party.
Until recently, I had considered it plausible that Pawlenty’s conservative credentials blended with a moderate personal profile would eventually raise his appeal as a viable general election candidate in his party. But Gerson seems to believe that Pawlenty will have real trouble getting through the primaries, and I am starting to think that he may very well be correct about that. It also sounds like Gerson believes that would be an unfortunate circumstance for the Republican Party.

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