I thinks it says a lot that Tim Pawlenty has not only come out strongly against raising the debt ceiling, but he has decided to try to use his hard-line stance as some kind of contrast to Mitt Romney. Most of Wall Street, and pretty much every Republican with any real money invested in Wall Street, probably wants to choke Pawlenty rather than vote for him or give him any campaign donations. Pawlenty’s main attraction was that he had a fairly moderate record, that he had executive experience, and that he might have the ability to attract voters in some swing states. There’s a reason that Haley Barbour didn’t run for president, and that’s because running a Good Old Boy from Mississippi against a black president wasn’t going to sell well in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England, or the Pacific Northwest. A mind-mannered governor from Minnesota, however, could have been a different matter.
Moderation is going to be essential if a GOP candidate is going to take down the only adult in the room. Pawlenty could have been that kind of moderate. I think it’s especially important when you consider the Electoral College challenge for Republicans. They need to take back the traditionally red states: North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada. But that’s not enough. They have to swing some of the big swing states. The five most obvious targets are: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. What do those five states have in common? They just elected decidedly immoderate Republican governors who have really pissed people off. None of those governors would be reelected if election day were today.
Of course, you don’t get the chance to run against Obama unless you win the Republican nomination, and that’s hard to do as a moderate. But Mitt Romney is somehow doing okay in the polls without taking a full plunge into wingnuttery. It’s possible to convince people that you can win while Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul cannot. What Pawlenty is doing is destroying the best argument for his candidacy. His new emphasis on his Christian faith presents a similar problem. Part of the appeal of nominating a non-Southern candidate is that Northerners don’t have to feel all weird about how the candidate wears their religion on their sleeve. If Pawlenty is going to behave like he’s from Arkansas, it further undermines what makes him different and more appealing to the non-Southern electorate. The people of New Hampshire are pretty consistent about rejecting southerners for precisely this reason. Yes, it plays well in Iowa, but when did Iowa ever determine who the Republican nominee would be?
They chose Poppy Bush in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988, and Mike Huckabee in 2008. They did pick Bush in 2000, but then he went on to get crushed in New Hampshire.
Pawlenty may figure he needs to catch on in Iowa or he’s finished, but why is it even worth winning there if you destroy your prospects of becoming president in the process.