A lengthy look at Tim Pawlenty’s campaign by Walter Shapiro in The New Republic — titled “The Tragedy of Tim Pawlenty” — deals a bit with the former governor’s political positioning and staid demeanor, particularly in regards to the more exciting campaign that seems to be emerging from Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
The opening anecdote:
…desperate for a headline-making morsel about his home-state rival, I asked Pawlenty to respond to the assessment that he was the establishment and Bachmann was the outsider in Minnesota politics. To my surprise, Pawlenty sprang to life. He spent the next four minutes vehemently disputing my premise. “If you look at Minnesota, I don’t think you can define anything I did there as establishment,” he said, methodically ticking off his eight-year record as the militantly anti-tax governor of a state dominated by “a multigenerational, Humphrey-esque, liberal culture.” At times, a thin veneer of anger crept into his voice, even though all he would say about Bachmann, the original flashpoint of the question, was this: “She’s really an outsider, of course. I don’t think there’s much dispute about that.”
And Shapiro opines:
If presidential politics were a rational enterprise governed by flow charts and PowerPoints, then Pawlenty — a competent, conservative former governor — would be in serious contention right now, perhaps a few strides off the pace as the GOP race heads into its first turn. But, instead, less than a month before the August 13 Iowa Straw Poll, Pawlenty finds himself struggling to gain his footing. Poll numbers mired in the single digits, a soporific debate performance in New Hampshire, anemic fund-raising — all have contributed to a media verdict that Pawlenty is nearly finished before he has really begun.
This storyline has clearly been over-hyped: With a weak GOP field, it is a mistake to write off Pawlenty more than six months before the Iowa caucuses. Yet it is also undeniable that the former Minnesota governor is in serious trouble. After a month on the Pawlenty beat — during which I spent time on the road with him in New Hampshire, toured his blue-collar hometown of South St. Paul, and delved into his Minnesota record — I came to appreciate the tragedy of his situation. “He’s always had it figured out,” says former senior gubernatorial aide Tom Hanson. But suddenly nothing makes sense for Pawlenty. He is a guy who lifted himself out of his working-class roots, partly putting himself through college by bagging groceries. Along the way, he never left anything to chance, micromanaging every aspect of his career, sometimes exasperating those close to him with his obsession for detail. But now, rather than solidifying his position as the credible right-wing alternative to Mitt Romney, he finds himself distracted by thunder on his own right in the form of Bachmann. Why is it that Tim Pawlenty — for whom everything appeared perfect in theory — cannot seem to break through?
Concluding the piece, Shapiro says:
And yet presidential politics are unpredictable — and redemption and rebirth are common. John Kerry and John McCain were both struggling at this point in 2003 and 2007. And so, it seems premature to write off Pawlenty. Especially since he has a formidable asset that can help him survive the demolition derby that is the Iowa Straw Poll: Leaving nothing to chance, Tim Pawlenty — the striver from South St. Paul, the nit-picker, the war-gamer, the micromanager — still boasts the best political organization in Iowa.