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Tony Jones: Candidate Pawlenty is boring

Beginning with his second term as governor, Gov.

Tony Jones: Friday, March 4, 2011

I seem to inhabit the territory of presidential also-rans.

When I arrived at Dartmouth, I was informed that the College had never turned out a president.  Plenty of presidents were alumni of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, but Dartmouth had only come as close as perennial candidate Daniel Webster and Paul Tsongas.

And my home state is known not only for the Vikings going 0-4 in the Super Bowl, but for presidential also-rans Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Eugene McCarthy.

It looks like we’re going to continue that tradition with Tim Pawlenty.

I used to be pretty fond of Pawlenty, and I voted for him.  He seemed to me a centrist Republican.  He governed our largely liberal state and worked with a Democratically-controlled state legislature.  He’s a life-long politician, so he avoided the demagoguery that second-career politicians (Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Michelle Bachmann) seem to bring to the job.

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Honestly, he seemed not unlike Barack Obama — a commonsense, centrist politician, one whose religion was understated, albeit important.  He was not an ideologue.

But all that has changed.

Beginning with his second term as governor, Pawlenty started turning hard to the right.  He dug in his heels on a “no new taxes” pledge, even as our state built up a crippling deficit.  He has repeatedly misstated his own record on these matters, and rather than taking even a measure of the blame, he’s pointed fingers at everyone else.

Now, he’s pushing all of his chips to the far right side of the table in hopes of getting the Republican nomination for president: he’s backing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in Walker’s showdown with teachers’ unions; he’s taking speaking gigs with the Tea Party; he even criticized President Obama’s handling of the crisis in Egypt (which even far right critics begrudgingly admitted was pretty good).  He’s trying to construct a candidate out of himself that will appeal to the right wingers.  And it’s not working.

When Pawlenty tries to raise his voice in front of a group of Tea Partiers, he sounds to me like Peter Brady singing, “When It’s Time to Change.”  It doesn’t work.  Neither does it work when he pounds a copy of the Constitution on the podium.  I’m not buying it.  I don’t believe him when he calls Obama a “union coddler” and says that Obama is running around the world “apologizing for America.”  I don’t believe Pawlenty because I don’t think that Pawlenty believes what he’s saying.

Newt Gingrich panders to conservatives.  So do Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann.  And they all get away with it because they ooze charisma out the wazoo.  Pawlenty doesn’t.  He’s boring — as many national media outlets have noticed — and he’s in a long line of boring (but effective) politicians from Minnesota (see list above).  “Pawlenty is boring” is the growing meme, and I doubt he can overcome it.

Maybe Jesse Ventura will run.  Hey, a guy can dream.

This post was written by Tony Jones and originally published on the Tony Jones Blog. Follow him on Twiter: @jonestony