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Pawlenty plays warm-up comedian, attack dog, blue-collar man, Romney surrogate

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Tim Pawlenty has been a top surrogate for Romney since September, less than a month after he dropped his own campaign for president.

Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination Wednesday night, giving a speech split between his work as head of the House Budget Committee and the personal backstory that made the man and would-be vice president. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was his warm-up act.

The one-time presidential candidate and two-time vice presidential hopeful played four roles on Wednesday night: warm-up comedian, attack dog, blue-collar man of the people and Mitt Romney surrogate. He unleashed a barrage of zingers about President Obama during his 10-minute speech, delivering a string of humorous one-offs that drew good-natured guffaws from the RNC attendees. Toward the end, when the speech had more substance, Pawlenty told his personal story and gave a whole-hearted endorsement of the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket.


But first came the comedy. Some of the highlights:

  • He called the RNC Obama’s “retirement party.”
  • He referred to Vice President Joe Biden in a list of Obama mistakes, alongside: “the stimulus. His energy policy. Obamacare. Taxes.” Taken together, Obama “is the tattoo president. Like a big tattoo, it seemed cool when we were young. But later on, that decision doesn’t look so good, and you wonder: What was I thinking? But the worst part is you’re still going to have to explain it to your kids.”
  • He said Obama has created jobs, but only for “golf caddies.” Making a nod to fellow Minnesotan and Food Network star Andrew Zimmern: “The president takes more vacations than that guy on the Bizarre Foods show.”
  • In the end, “Barack Obama’s failed us. But look, it’s understandable. A lot of people fail at their first job.”

The speech had the convention hall alternatively chuckling and cheering. The humor was hokey but with a message, one other speakers have used to win cheers and one epitomizing the line Republicans will employ against the president over the next two months: Obama has tried to improve the economy, but rather than stop the bleeding from the Great Recession, his policies have saddled the country with more debt, fewer opportunities for the middle class and the promise of higher taxes and an atmosphere hostile toward businesses and job creators.

After Pawlenty’s stand-up, his speech had the gravitas of a man who cut his teeth on the presidential campaign trail: he showcased his blue-collar upbringing in South St. Paul and highlighted the personal tales of the voters he courted during his brief presidential run last summer.

“Can they pay the mortgage? Will they have enough money to buy groceries, or gas for the car? Will they be able to get their kids into college or pay the tuition?” he said. “But jobs don’t come from politicians. They come from the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the innovators and the risk-takers.”

The candidate those voters should look toward: Mitt Romney.

Top surrogate

Pawlenty has been a top surrogate for Romney since September, less than a month after he dropped his own campaign for president. Long gone has been Pawlenty’s short-lived attack on Romney, that the Republican nominee’s health-care reform measures instituted in Massachusetts inspired Obama’s Affordable Care Act so much that it should be called “Obamneycare.”

Instead: “We have the best candidate. This isn’t [Romney’s] first job, or the first time he’s been a leader who has produced results. He’s made a success of failing companies. He made a success of the Olympics. He even made government in Massachusetts more effective and efficient. And now he’s ready to help get America back on track and Americans back to work.”

Pawlenty was considered a member of Romney’s vice presidential short-list, but lost out to Ryan, a policy wonk who has spearheaded House Republicans’ efforts to cut the federal budget and reform entitlement programs. Ryan’s speech was part-autobiography, part-pep rally for the Republicans in the audience who will make the case that they have the best plan for reforming the Medicare program — the one proposed by Ryan himself. On paper, it’s a tough task: Democrats have made hay of down-ticket Republicans’ support of the Ryan plan, and on the biggest stage of his life, Ryan’s goal was to defend it.

Pawlenty had no such lofty goals. He told some jokes, won some cheers and made the case for his presidential candidate — and he had a message for the man whose job he most recently looked to take.

“I hear Joe [Biden]’s particularly interested in tonight’s proceedings,” he said. “He’s taking notes, because when Paul Ryan speaks, Joe will finally get to hear what a real vice president sounds like.”

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/30/2012 - 09:42 am.

    Mr. Pawlenty does not seem to have solved the presentation problem that arose during the primaries: that he is a fundamentally mild, reasonable man desperate to appear strident.

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/30/2012 - 10:20 am.

    Failure for whom?

    T-Paw sounded like a man going through his own personal catharsis…one sad but disturbing display of cheap get-back-at-you one-liners; all strung out in a simplistic, shot gun style delivery…directed at Obama.

    Hate speech? No not that powerful, but more the petulant effect of a poor loser trying to make his moment on stage in the political arena one grand finale?

    Who’s-He-Again Tim… his words came off more like one quick-and-careless attempt to devalue ‘another’, but essentially downgrading himself.

    He’s going to have a lot to explain to his kids one day…

  3. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 08/30/2012 - 10:40 am.

    He Knows Failure

    Mr. Pawlenty governship was a failure of epic proportions by Minnesota standards. He can say whatever he wants about President Obama but if he was a fair man, he would have prefaced his remarks with something like . . . “I know failure, look at my record as governor of Minnesota; when I talk about failed leadership I know from personal experience what I am talking about”.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/30/2012 - 11:00 am.

    The GOP is definitely making their case

    They are not ready to help solve our country’s problems. The problems the GOP mainly caused, now they don’t have a clue how to help. Through comedy and lies is not going to help. It was amateur night last night. If Pawlenty and Ryan are the best and the brightest of the GOP has to offer they have more problems than the country does. Up tonight is the guy who can’t maintain a course long enough to solve anything. His course is determined by which way the political winds are blowing. Until the word “compromise” enters the GOP’s lexicon their only course is a slippery downward slope. Voters, the GOP is demonstrating they are totally bankrupt. The choice is yours in November.

  5. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 08/30/2012 - 11:04 am.

    The Ugly Truth

    If we want to be fair and charitable, the best thing that can be said about T-Paw is that he can find the definition of failure by looking in the mirror.

  6. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 08/30/2012 - 11:08 am.


    has always seemed to me to be at about the emotional i.q. level of a 6th or 7th graders. His speech confirms it. He was a bully, he used phrases that I thought only children used, he was arbitrary, he refused to meet with DFLers to try to work out issues, he never showed up at an economic conference with the DFLers, scorning them as . . I don’t remember what he said now, but it was vicious and childish.
    He should stick to his day job, whatever that is.

  7. Submitted by mark wallek on 08/30/2012 - 11:16 am.

    Still trying to be gutsy

    With the abdication of the senate seat to Norm Coleman years back, Mr. Pawlenty established himself as a man willing to bend over and take it for his party. He still awaits, in his mind, the proper payback. Looks like his party is only going to give him some crumbs though, even if Mitt pulls off a win, which is unlikely because he’s an out of touch, predestined for heaven one percenter. If Tim just got down on his knees and begged, perhaps his party would take pity and give him something he can call an “income producing activity.”

  8. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/30/2012 - 11:16 am.

    Very hard to believe –

    But Timmy is more pathetic as a “comedian” than as a “governor”.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/30/2012 - 12:28 pm.

      I guess he should have turned

      to Al “Effen” Franken for some good dirty jokes, eh? That’s all Franken’s known for.

      • Submitted by Rachel Weisman on 08/30/2012 - 05:17 pm.

        Way to defend Pawlenty

        Classic. Mr. Tester defends Pawlenty by sliming Franken. I guess it confirms that Pawlenty is indefensible.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/30/2012 - 05:35 pm.

        Typical response from you –

        Nothing to dispute so change the subject. By the way, do some research about Franken’s work in comedy before you comment. More successful than Pawlenty no matter what.

  9. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 08/30/2012 - 11:44 am.

    Why does anyone care?

    The press continues to act as if the readers care about Tim Pawlenty’s constant pandering to the Republican power establishment, pandering he does for the sake of his own self-promotion. Most people in Minnesota don’t care about him at all anymore (not that he was ever really popular here; he was twice elected with pluralities, never a majority of the voters, and most of those voting were voting against the other choices.)

    I didn’t listen to his speech, nor do I care what he says anymore, never much did. His routine is entirely predictable and boring to us. Though I will not vote for Romney/Ryan, I did listen to Mr. Ryan’s speech, as a vice-presidential nominee merits attention. Pawlenty does not.

    Please, people of the press, stop pandering to this man, and stop covering his actions. It really isn’t newsworthy anymore.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/30/2012 - 11:54 am.

    …“The demographics race we’re losing badly,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”…..

    Yes, especially with clowns like Pawlenty, front and center.

  11. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/30/2012 - 12:54 pm.

    Standing for nothing

    T-Paw’s speech exemplifies the modern Republican Party. They can’t sell their tired old ideas to the public, so all they can do is be “against.” What are they for? Fiscalresponsibilitylowertaxeslimitedgovernment. Okay, how do they go about putting those principles into effect? Well, um, we would . . . Look! A Kenyan Islamo-socialist in the White House!

    As far as the “tattoo President” joke, I would have to call Timmy the “drunken one-night stand Governor.” Please, let’s just pretend that never happened!

  12. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 08/31/2012 - 07:03 pm.

    Tim who? You don’t mean the empty chair do you? Oh sorry that was on another night easily confused by failed theatrics.

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