Feature:Opinion

The real reason Pawlenty failed

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James Poulos
Daily Caller Columnist
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      James Poulos

      James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller and a contributor to Forbes, Ricochet, and Vice. Recently he has been the host of <a href="http://www.pjtv.com/?cmd=mpg&mpid=349&series-id=89"> The Bottom Line</a> and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is <a href="http://jamespoulos.com/"> jamespoulos.com</a> and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.

Tim Pawlenty is exiting the race for the White House the same way he came in — on a tidal wave of conventional wisdom.

He was too even-tempered, they say, to catch on with a white-hot electorate. He was too level-headed, they say, to connect with a grassroots that’s gone to extremes. He was a nice guy — “boring,” in the parlance of our times — so he finished last.

Breaking news: The conventional wisdom is wrong. Pawlenty’s personality problem wasn’t a charisma deficit — it was a wimpiness surplus.

But the wimp factor is meaningless relative to the flaw that doomed his candidacy. As Ron Paul has amply proven, a certain kind of message can propel even the most unlikely of messengers deep into a crowded field.

Pawlenty is out, and out first, for one reason and one reason only.

It’s not Pawlenty. It’s Pawlentyism.

Tim Pawlenty is the canary in the establishment coal mine. His message — that the Republican Party doesn’t need to rethink any of its main policy propositions — no longer computes with a critical mass of Republican voters: not just in Ames, Iowa, but nationwide.

Paul and his (growing) army of faithful are no longer the lone data point. Michele Bachmann has built her campaign around a radical alternative to Republican spending orthodoxy. Sarah Palin fuels hopes of an even broader renunciation of the Republican establishment.

Even Mitt Romney now knows better than to re-run his losing proto-Pawlentyist campaign from 2008, when his change-nothing play for the mushy conservative middle left him obliged to spend millions to avoid T-Paw’s glum fate.

But time is running out on Romney’s current luxurious alternative, the anti-campaign. Rather than serving pabulum, Romney has served nothing; pointing a finger at Obama has been enough. No longer. He will have to offer, like any Republican candidate serious about claiming the nomination, a fundamental departure from the miasma of convention that clings to the Republican brand.

It’s not that Pawlenty’s brand of mainstream, fusionist conservatism is wrong. It’s that it misses the point. The principles are necessary, but the policies Pawlentyism derives from them are inadequate to the daunting task that Americans have — let’s face it — set before themselves.

Given how grievously we’ve undercalculated the real debt burdens at the state, local, and federal levels, an “ambitious goal” of 5% economic growth is not just absurd but dangerously so. (Perhaps real growth is in reach with a massive and open-ended influx of immigrants who are ready to work cheap and stay off entitlements. Good luck with that.)

Given how weary America has become of its network of military actions, a bear-any-burden approach to muscular interventionism sweeps all our serious strategic questions under the rug. (Note: We Americans are fine with wars. It’s the massive and open-ended imperial mission of garrisoning “restive tribal areas” that we rightly lose patience for.)

And given how deeply all economic classes have been penetrated by dependency on perpetual federal wealth transfers, the “Sam’s Club Republicanism” that anointed Pawlenty its poster boy cannot be taken seriously when it proposes to “reform” the country and the GOP by replacing our system of targeted tax credits with one of out-and-out wage subsidies.

  • writeblock

    It was both message and personality. His conservatism seemed inauthentic. And his personality was too tentative and innocuous for the times. We’re in the midst of a cold civil war. We don’t need nice guys. We need warriors–which is why Ryan also shouldn’t run.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BTFH33NCY3DXWHCQIALPK56TQ4 BobA

    American voters have had it up to here with old time politicians of either major party.  Whole TEA Party is made up of millions of angry Americans who are angry at BOTH big parties.  

  • Elrod

    What I find amazing here is how much I, a liberal, agree with James Poulos on HIS positions.  The origins of our fantasy-land social engineering-based tax credit, low-tax+social spending+endless military spending policies come from Ronald Reagan and have been followed by Presidents in both parties ever since (note how Obama doesn’t want to give up the Bush tax cuts for those under 200k). Of course, in my estimation, the best way to avoid all this social engineering nonsense is to create a single payer health system (thus removing perverse employer-based health plans). Let the well-off purchase supplemental health plans (thus providing market incentives for more elective kinds of care).

    On the rest of his issue agenda I find much to agree on outright.

    So maybe the problem here is that while Pawlenty is an establishment Republican, Poulos is just not a Republican at all. Nor is he in the Tea Party camp. In fact, Perry/Bachmann are even further from Poulos’s vision than Pawlenty.

  • Stoic Patriot

    Other thoughts about the second page and what Conservatives are looking for:

    1.) In foreign policy, end our indefinite military garrisons: Sorry, Conservatives really aren’t calling for this. If you’ll notice, folks were horrified by Ron Paul’s comments about Iran

    2.) On drugs: No, the GOP base is not seeking legalization. A bunch of liberal potheads and many libertarians may be, but it’s the GOP, not the Democrats, that harbor the largest proportion of anti-drug proponents. Remember, legalization lost not too long ago in California, which would be the place to legalize it if any would

    3.) On immigration: No, GOP voters don’t want to give illegals a choice between citizenship or deportation. They want them deported, PERIOD.

    4.) On social issues: No, GOP voters have not gone 10th amendment happy. Rick Santorum well exceeded expectations after bashing the 10th amendment run amok, and Rick Perry recently backed away from the 10th amendment and embraced a human life amendment and gay marriage amendment.

    I’m sorry Mr. Poulos, but apparently you’ve confused Ron Paul voters with being representative of GOP voters. If 50% of Tea Partiers also call themselves Social Conservatives / Evangelicals, then I can guarantee you that if you think the Tea Party is the insurgent movement, it’s not nearly as pure Libertarian as you pretend it is.

  • Stoic Patriot

    This article is plain silly. Pawlenty lost in part because of his wimpiness, in part because of how dull he was, but also in large part because when he did go on the attack, he focused his attacks against a true Conservative, Michele Bachmann, while leaving Romney as untouched as possible. That doesn’t make people think he’s a mainstream fusionist Republican. It makes them smell the scent of a RINO in the wings, and someone who’s just as likely to stab them in the back if it proves to be expedient. Pawlenty didn’t pass the test he was subjected to of being a true believer.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZORRWGDSSPRIGLYJXLMSQBWXEE SPQRS

      Wow can I get some of what you just smoked? I think the article is pretty accurate. Pawlenty sucked just like it said here…but the idiotic buffoons that run the GOP don’t want to hear this message.

  • Citizen Jerry

    I see the Paulinstas are out in force. After Ron’s gaffe that he doesn’t care if Iran goes nuclear, do you really think people are going to take him seriously? The Paulinistas may be small in number, but they do make a lot of noise.

    As for T-Paw, maybe his message was the reason he failed, but his personality didn’t help at all. The guy makes vanilla look charismatic.