Hugh Hewitt sounded off in the WashEx yesterday on two big myths about Tim Pawlenty:
First, his critics (who include no doubt backers of other horses) say Pawlenty is dull.
Other than Romney, I have interviewed Pawlenty more often than any other elected official over the past 12 years. With great certainty I can say he is easily the funniest, best interview of all the shortlisted candidates I have spoken with.
Hewitt notes something I’ve been saying all along; Pawlenty, in his element, is one of the best stump speakers in politics. He’s not a thunderous stem-winder in the William Jennings Bryan mold – too many pols try and fail to rewarm that act. But he’s affable, quick on his feet, and has a natural knack for relating to an audience. He may be the most underrated orator in American politics today.
Because the hockey-playing, quick-to-smile former chief exec of the Gopher State is at ease with himself, he is similarly at ease in sit-downs with reporters, ready, willing and very able to give as good as he gets, and very disciplined when it comes to message delivery.
This is an enormous advantage in our media-soaked world, especially in these days of 24/7 news cycles and social media ubiquity. The candidates are always “on,” and the would-be veep needs especially to be out in the lists every day, doing talk radio, local television and endless fundraisers at which every cellphone is a potential game-changing link to the mainstream media.
I, myself, have not come close to making my own call for Veep (not that it matters); I have a few on my short list, with Jindahl, Paul Ryan and Pawlenty near the top.
Speaking to Hugh’s point about media presence – while I’m a big Bobby Jindahl fan, I note his one big oratorial asterisk – his one infamously disastrous appearance in 2008 – is something I’ve never seen TPaw do on stage. Say what you will about him, the guy’s a 100% performer in front of a camera.
The second objection is Pawlenty’s failed presidential campaign, and the appearance of losing to Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.
The answer here is the peculiar dynamic of the 2012 primary race, a dynamic Romney understands, having been caught in a crossfire in the race in 2008. Pawlenty ran into an early GOP primary electorate not looking to win the fall 2012 race so much as to promote vehicles through which to express anger at the president. That impulse — the demand for white-hot passion — played itself out as more and more Republican voters got serious about winning, but Pawlenty was its first victim.
This has been a huge issue throughout races, nationally and especially in Minnesota (see the MN Senate race, where activist passion slewed the race hard toward Kurt Bills, a candidate that would have been a dark horse under any normal circumstances).
There’s a third issue that dogs Pawlenty, especially among Minnesota conservatives – that Pawlenty is “not conservative enough”. My response is “conservative enough for what?” Conservative enough to win a conservative rhetorical beauty contest? Of course not – he’s had his slips over the years.
Conservative enough when the chips were down to hold the line on taxes and stand by the principles for which he was elected (are you listening, MN Senate GOP caucus), at a time when a lesser governor could have found ample political cover to collapse like a Wal-Mart end table?
It remains to be seen whether Hewitt’s attention will damage Pawlenty in this race – ask Pete Hegseth about the “Hewitt Curse” – but you should read the whole thing.