WASHINGTON — If you were to boil down the dynamics of the 2012 presidential campaigns waged by its two Minnesotans, it could be this: Michele Bachmann rose quickly but was intimidated by Rick Perry, while Mitt Romney decidedly wasn’t by Tim Pawlenty.
If the 2012 election postmortem develops anything like it did in 2008, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book “Double Down” will probably be among the most-read popular accounts of how the election played out (the pair wrote “Game Change” in 2010). For Minnesota readers, the book, out today, includes just a few details about the Pawlenty and Bachmann campaigns — after all, for as much attention as they received at home, they were relatively minor actors in the campaign as a whole.
One interesting item Halperin and Heilemann dug up, though, was how Romney approached the two: not only was he happy to let the Minnesotans beat each other up ahead of the August 2011 Iowa Straw Poll, he actually encouraged it. The Romney campaign had Bachmann do a bit of its bidding by passing on a “dossier detailing Pawlenty’s deviations from conservative orthodoxy as governor” ahead of a debate immediately before the straw poll. Bachmann utilized the opposition research, which focused on Pawlenty’s environmental and health-care record, and Pawlenty dropped out of the race after his third place finish in the straw poll.
That would be Bachmann’s high point: Texas Gov. Perry joined the campaign that same day, and when the two were scheduled to appear at the same event a few days later, Perry shined while Bachmann wilted, refusing, at first, to take the stage if Perry was still there and then failing to deploy a clever quip welcoming him to the race. (Here’s Politico’s rather scathing report on Bachmann’s appearance.)
Bachmann was evidently intimidated by Perry, a conservative who entered the race to much fanfare even as her campaign was peaking. She told her advisers after the event, “I just totally freaked.”
The other interesting nugget about the Bachmann campaign is her reaction to her last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. She broke down crying on her campaign bus, according to the book, told her advisers to draft a concession speech for immediately the next morning, and said: “God, I’m a loser … God, I turn people off.”
As for Pawlenty, Romney viewed him, at first, as a credible candidate, but one easily dispatched with on his way to the Republican nomination. At that point, Pawlenty was seen as not only an ally, but a potential running mate as well.
Pawlenty whiffed badly in July 2011 when he refused to use his portmanteau “Obamneycare” to tie Romney’s Massachusetts health-care overhaul to President Obama in the same debate Bachmann announced her candidacy. The book implies it was his wife, Mary Pawlenty, who helped persuade him not to. After he dropped out of the race, Pawlenty moved to support Romney, who put Pawlenty on his vice presidential shortlist.
Romney’s camp called the running-mate search “Project Goldfish,” and assigned each of his potential running mates a fish-based moniker: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was “Pufferfish”; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, “Pescado”; Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, “Filet-of-Fish”; Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the eventual nominee, was “Fishconsin.”
Romney dubbed Pawlenty “Lakefish,” but he and his vetters concluded Pawlenty “packed little political punch” to be VP, according to Halperin and Heilemann. They picked the younger, more exciting Fishconsin for the ticket instead.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry