The real reason Pawlenty failed

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.