Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pawlenty, the Un-Somebody

7-up is the “UnCola”. By avoiding a lot of the negatives of other possible Presidential candidates, Tim Pawlenty is the Un-Candidate – a refreshing alternative to the other contenders. The question is who or what is Pawlenty the “un” to? Team T-Paw needs to figure out who they are attempting to displace if they want to win the nomination. I say he should be the “Un-Romney”.

Mitch Daniels sort of looks like an accountant –pasty white guy, substantially bald, medium height– and has a résumé to match. He's a former OMB director, and is known as a frugal governor. Of course Pawlenty was also a frugal governor, receiving a Cato Institute grade of “A” to Daniels' “B”. But for whatever reason, T-Paw doesn't get the love from the fis-cons like “Mitch the Knife” does. Go figure.

Romney is the guy who is ahead in most of the primary polls I've seen, and happens to be the proverbial “next guy in line” for the Republican nomination. Romney's perceived strength is also in the economic realm, but more aligned to the real economy rather than trimming the fat on government balance sheets. Of course, Romney's albatross is MassCare, a.k.a. RomneyCare. It might not be entirely fair to hang all of MassCare's faults on Romney, but the bill Romney signed is strikingly similar to ObamaCare, putting Romney in quite a pickle.

Huckabee is, of course, viewed first and foremost as a social/cultural conservative. With virtually every candidate professing pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-marriage positions, it's hard to actually distinguish the Presidential would-be's on an issue basis. From my perspective, Huck's appeal seems to be based in the identity politics of the rural and overtly religious. (And that's me being charitable to Huckabee – I really think part of his appeal stems from a class warfare campaign that has been fueled by his political vendetta with the Club for Growth.)

Each of these contenders (and others I didn't mention, including Newt Gingrich) has certain obvious flaws. Daniels has his “truce”. Romney has MassCare. Huckabee has his issues with fiscal conservatives. Pawlenty seems to be hitting Iowa as mini-Huckabee, stressing the importance of faith and hitting the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.

I question the wisdom of this strategy. A Huck-vs-Pawlenty contest in Iowa plays to all of Huck's strong suits and all of Pawlenty's weak ones. Perhaps team T-Paw is looking at some interesting polling data telling them otherwise, but I think he should try to be the Un-Romney instead. (If some Iowa cross-tabs should happen to serendipitously find their way into my email inbox... maybe I could be persuaded otherwise.)

T-Paw is most certainly not “Mr. Excitement”. Not that anybody of the major players are, but Huckabee's the most energetic major figure in the race. Daniels? Romney? Yawn. Trying to take on Huckabee is to invite a bad comparison. No number of Michael Bay-style YouTube videos will change that. Aiming for Romney, however, would be courting a more even match.

Pawlenty has traipsed into the "class" issue before. He's got a good blue-collar story, but he's not going to “out-poverty” Huckabee. That is, not unless Pawlenty has an anecdote that beats Huck's fried squirrel story. Otherwise, Pawlenty's blue-collar background is going to fall short. On the other hand, Pawlenty's background contrasts beautifully with Romney's, and he wouldn't have to force the issue. Pawlenty can't out preach a preacher, and can't out-poor a poor boy. Don't even try.

By going with the “Huck/Iowa” strategy, Pawlenty may be cutting himself off from New Hampshire, which is much less overtly religious, and much friendlier to somebody filling the role of competent fiscally conservative governor. Think this is Romney's strength? MassCare, MassCare, MassCare.

Also, did I mention MassCare?

Romney is the giant sequoia, waiting to be felled. Whoever displaces Romney should see quite a few voters consolidate behind him (or her). Pawlenty has a decent chance to best Romney, and not so great a chance at doing the same to Huckabee in Iowa.

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