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Pros and some big cons of Pawlenty as Romney’s VP choice

Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

If Pawlenty gets the nod, the country will be introduced to his locally famous slogan that the party needs “Sam’s Club Republicans” as well as country club Republicans.

The Tim Pawlenty veep rumor was juiced up this morning by a front-page New York Times piece that didn’t exactly predict that TPaw would be Mitt Romney’s  running-mate, but went over the case for Pawlenty and slipped in a reference to Romney as “on the cusp of announcing his vice-presidential selection. Mr. Romney has reached a decision, his friends believe, and he may disclose it as soon as this week.”

Why is the Times slipping that into what would otherwise be a conventional repetition of Pawlenty’s attributes as a potential running mate, and on page one no less?

The attributes, which will be repeated a lot in the days ahead, include features that will balance Romney’s biography. The son of a truck driver, Pawlenty has bona fide working-class roots. He belongs to an evangelical Protestant church. Pawlenty is smooth and politically sure-footed with a gift for staying on message without sounding like he is reading the latest talking points off a cue card.

If Pawlenty gets the nod – and at the moment I don’t doubt that he is among the top two or three possibilities – the country will be introduced to his locally famous slogan that the party needs “Sam’s Club Republicans” as well as country club Republicans.

But in talking the latest TPaw buzz over with my old Strib colleague Dane Smith – who covered Pawlenty from the beginning of his political career through both of his terms of governor – Dane said something that absolutely resonated with me, although I have much less up close experience with TPaw.

“No tattoos,” Dane said, jokingly. Pawlenty does have a blue collar-background, but he comes across much more the suburban Republican that he was when came to the Legislature representing Eagan. He is a lawyer, married to another lawyer (who became a judge). He was working for a big downtown law firm before he ran for office. He comes from a blue-collar town and a blue-collar family, “but he just doesn’t ring blue-collar,” Dane said.

It’s also true that Pawlenty is an evangelical Christian, but he is no Michele Bachmann. He converted from his Catholic upbringing because his wife was an evangelical. He doesn’t engage in a lot of public God talk, for which I personally am grateful. It’s true, of course, that many evangelicals are nervous about whether Romney’s Mormon faith makes him Christian enough. Maybe Pawlenty on the ticket can help on that score. But if he starts larding up his speeches with biblical references, he will not be the Tim Pawlenty we have known.

One more issue about Pawlenty as the ticket-balancer. The hard right, which is highly suspicious of Romney’s sincerity on several litmus-test issues, will find that Pawlenty is also trying to live down his shameful past as a fairly moderate conservative. He flirted with gay rights early in his legislative career (a 1993 vote for which he has expressed regret), and with global warming and even with cap-and-trade and, as governor, raised a tax, on cigarettes, then tried to call it a “health impact fee.” In short, he, like Romney, is a recovering moderate which may cause some of the unforgiving among the Repub base to question the sincerity of his most recent set of positions.

Two other astute political observers who have been helping me understand the veepstakes weighed in with the freshest news that Romney may be on the brink of announcing his choice and that the Times disclosed this news in the context of a piece about Pawlenty’s chances of being the guy.

Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University Law School, whose research focuses heavily on the vice presidency, calls Pawlenty a top three possibility. Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota and the Center on the Study of Politics and Government agrees that Pawlenty is under serious consideration, but still believes that Romney will want someone on the ticket with some Washington experience.


Two more views

Here’s Goldstein’s testimony:

I continue to think Pawlenty is a very, very serious possibility.  I would guess he's in the three under most serious consideration (I would guess Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former South Dakota Sen. John Thune), probably the two at the top.

There's a lot we don't know, for instance what the vetting shows and how Governor Romney and those around him are approaching things, and accordingly anyone who's pontificating from afar should do so with some recognition of the limitations that information gap presents.

But once the field is narrowed to those who are plausible presidents and those who don't have some vetting baggage too heavy to carry, a key question becomes what message will a particular vice-presidential selection send about the presidential candidate.  In the actual decision, that's more important than where they come from or who they endorsed or how they will help in governing.  Presidential candidates want to shape their own perceived identity in part through their VP selection.

Governor Pawlenty helps Governor Romney with respect to one of Romney's biggest vulnerabilities -- the belief that Governor Romney's affluence and life-style make him out of touch with the realities that most Americans face.  The last week, with the focus on Bain, tax shelters, and undisclosed tax returns, this vulnerability has been visible and is likely to remain so.  Selecting Governor Pawlenty helps Governor Romney address that problem somewhat by focusing on Pawlenty's different narrative, the son of a truck driver, and adding someone to the ticket who presumably can relate to Joe Six Pack.  Senator Portman's elite pedigree and affluence, by contrast, probably exacerbates this Romney problem.

Governor Pawlenty has some other apparent virtues as a running mate.  He seems disposed to play the number 2 role of defending Governor Romney and attacking President Obama.  He has no D.C. ties.  He may appeal to Evangelical voters, an important part of the GOP base and one with misgivings about Governor Romney (although those misgivings may be mitigated for its antipathy to President Obama).  Likely to play well in the Midwest where many of the battleground states are (as is true with Portman and Thune).

Surely Pawlenty has weaknesses.  Lack of national security credential.  Failed presidential campaign amidst a very weak field.  Record as Governor which no doubt provides ammunition.  And Portman and others have their own strengths.

But no one should dismiss the chance of a Pawlenty selection. And if he's passed over, I suspect he will, once again, have come very close.

And here’s Jacobs:

Gov. Pawlenty is ticking off the boxes in the VP sweepstakes -- personal compatibility with Romney, governing style fit, appropriate temperament, help with social conservative base, and proven fiscal hawk who can be trusted to implement Ryan-like budget. 

As candidates are added and subtracted, Pawlenty is rising on the list.

At the end of the day, though, will he is be The guy?  My hunch is that Romney will also want a VP with DC experience who can work the system.  In that respect, Pawlenty doesn't bring anything to the team that Romney doesn’t have.

I haven't mentioned the general election or regional balancing  because I don't think it is as important as it used to be in the age of the Mondale Vice Presidency when #2 is a major policy player.  Romney will be risk averse is avoiding a Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle type of choice that hurts him; but he won't be tipping the scales to a [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio, for instance, to win a state.  When the campaign is in the balance in October, all lights are on the Guy at the top of the ticket.

One thing to note: Party nominees use the VP selection process in different ways.  Romney is pursuing a public process of floating names -- rewards folks who are campaigning hard for him (this may be a reason that Pawlenty's name keeps getting floated).  In the past, this process can backfire as it will inevitably disappoint factions who may be inclined to sulk at losing -- e.g. Latinos may see a decision not to select Rubio as a slap in the face after he was publicly floated as a candidate, which will add to Romney's problem.  Ditto on women if he goes with a guy.

Whoops: one more

I also reached out to Vin Weber, the former Repub congressman and now Washington bigfoot lobbyist who worked for the TPaw and Romney presidential campaigns over the course of the past year. I asked him if Pawlenty would be the guy. He replied:

"Nobody really knows anything except the Romneys and Beth Myers [who is leading the veep search project].

T-Paw's advantages are that Romney really likes him and he spent two years running himself. I think the latter point matters because it means he's been thoroughly vetted and won't be overwhelmed by the campaign experience.

But no one really knows what Romney is actually thinking."

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Comments (25)

Can't Be Serious!

Tim Pawlenty left the state in a $5 billion hole because he was too cowardly to add revenues when our state was sliding towards a massive deficit - despite continuing cuts in state government services. Mr. Pawlenty may have come from working class roots but he repeatedly and almost gleefuly refused to consider working class folks interests when he was governor and House majority leader.

It's ironic that Mr. Romney - who was apparently a pretty good governor - is running as hard as he can from that record but, would put Tim Pawlenty on his ticket who was, by almost all accounts, a pretty bad governor but who would run on that record.

Pawlenty, like Romney,

is a recovering politician. I can't imagine why the right would trust either of them.

He brings nothing

A vice president's four jobs are: chairing the senate, which they hardly do much any more, attending funerals, be capable to take over if the president should die and add politically to the ticket to help get the president elected. There is no question Pawlenty can do the first two. On the second, he has been a governor and running the federal government is similar. But he has no Washington experience. And on the final point: what does he bring to the campaign? Another middle-aged, quasi-moderate white male. No one - and I mean no one - is going to vote for Romney because of Pawlenty. He can't even deliver Minnesota, having never won a majority of voters here.

Which is precisely

why Pawlenty is perfect for the vice ticket. Mitt-TPaw has a nice ring to it.

If you believe

the meme from the chattering class that Romney intends to coast to victory, to rope-a-dope his way to November because Obama's dismal record and less than 43% approval rating will be all that matters, then Pawlenty has a shot, along with Portman, Thune, and the other boring white men.

But if you had talked to any conservatives, they'd say that Romney's rope-a-dope strategy is too risky. As desperate as Obama's getting with some of his stupid/outlandish statements lately ('If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen'"), you can't expect all voters to roll their eyes and laugh.

We think Romney needs to guarantee a huge turnout for his side. And the best way to do that is with an exciting addition to the ticket. Rice, Rubio, Christy, et al will energize the base when turnout will be the difference in November.

Tim's a nice guy, but he doesn't pass the excitement test.

Interesting quotation

"'If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen'"
I've seen other conservative types post this, which is interesting since it is a partial out of context statement.
The full statement is:
""If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive."

Another case of right wing cut and paste.

It's not a cut and paste

Sorry Paul, it's not a cut and paste. It's not a partial out of context statement. Let's call it what it is: it's a LIE.

This is the game that conservatives play. Someone deep in the bowels (pun intended) of the conservative movement lies. Not mis-speaks, not exaggerates, not disembles, but LIES.

Then they pass it around to a gullible group who, because it's what they want to believe, accepts it without any supporting evidence and it becomes a fact in their minds. Can you spell "death panels"?

Now I'm sure this happens on the left as well, but no where has it been elevated to an art form as it has in today's Republican Party.

But let's not sugar coat what it is - it's a lie.

That's the point.

When true statements are repeated the same way it's no surprise -- that's what it is.
When inaccuracies are repeated verbatim it's planned -- call it a conspiracy.

Which came first?

The car / truck, or the paved road?

Pawlenty's deficit?

We must remember, Pawlenty had a Democrat MN House and Senate when he was governor. It's cowardly to not raise taxes? No, it's a philosophy. Pawlenty's worst move in his tenure is no doubt the green stance he adopted.

What a philosophy!

There are more things on heaven and earth than were dreamt of in Timmy's philosophy.

Not raising taxes meant rebranding some of them as "fees" and increasing the charges for government services. It also entailed accounting shifts, kicking expenditures down the road, and raiding the tobacco litigation settlement fund (to save T-Paw's political bacon, not to reduce smoking). There was also the accounting legerdemain of not adjusting budgetary projections for inflation. We should also remember that much of the Pawlentyist "philosophy" was made possible by a grant from the US government, in the form of the much-derided stimulus funding.

From the standpoint of the citizens of this state, Pawlenty's worst move in his tenure is no doubt his decision to assume office after he was elected. Why his abysmal record does not disqualify him from office is one of the abiding political mysteries of our time.

It is awfully hard for me,

for whom familiarity has bred a good deal of contempt, to see how T-Paw could even be considered in passing. Yet, the talking heads on national TV all seem to think he's bronze, at least, if he isn't golden -- leading us with the very real possibility that come November, all these Repugs who pride themselves on being Ideological will have no option but to vote for two men so rankly opportunistic and changeable that there isn't any "there" there.

That table thing

I was only here for the last 2 of Mr. Pawlenty’s 8 years, but in that time, I didn’t see anything that would make me want to vote for him. As Eric suggested, he strikes me more as a suburban Republican than a genuine moderate or a hard-right zealot, though lately he’s trying to escape any suggestion of genuine thought that might lead him to be characterized as “moderate.”

My conclusions, not original, are that A) no one outside a VERY small inner circle (it might consist of only one person) knows what Mr. Romney is thinking in terms of Vice President; and B) Mr. Pawlenty doesn’t really bring anything to the table that Romney doesn’t already have access to, and in abundance.

The film title of this potential ticket

Dull and Duller.

BTW what's with this photo!

T-Paw wearing what we used to call a get laid shirt (it's in the shine) in lavendar of all colors with something odd going on with how it's tucked -- as if it's partially caught in his underwear, and Mittens, who I always think of as being quite slim looking like Boss Hogg . . . as my mother would say, "definitely not attractive."

I see

your criteria for who to vote for is consistent with your peers'.

Believe me, the reasons I'm not going to vote for Mittens

has nothing whatsoever to do with this photo. I was actually (a little bit) on your side . . . pointing out that the choice of photo didn't represent either man at their average, much less best.

Two slices of white bread

with nothing in the middle.
Great for the Dems!

You Don't Matter!

During his disastrous time as governor Pawlenty made or didn't make decisions that threw Minnesota under the bus just so he could look presidential. He was a can kicker that hoped someone else would have to clean up his $6,000,000,000 mess long after he left. He was told unequivocally, during his presidential run, he wasn't presidential material. Now out of total disrespect of the voters, who have already spoken with regard to Pawlenty, Romney might make Pawlenty a heartbeat away from the presidency. Voters Romney is sending you a loud and clear message, you don't matter. It is your choice in November.

"It is your choice in November"

It always was going to be the marxist or the capitalist.

So which is

Das Kapital ist?
Romney is big on the redistribution of wealth as long as it goes to him?


Romney's a Marxist?


If like Dennis, you belief that a Marxist is someone who believes in the redistribution of wealth.

Not the zany one?

Maybe Gummo or Zeppo at best.


After all, he keeps harping on the same topic without saying anything.