T-Paw backs Romney; Romney backs Hatch: What does it all mean?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Endorsements are often overrated. Unless they come with a check or a bloc of guaranteed votes, most are not as significant as the buzz would indicate. But they can clue us into some things. That is the case with two endorsements that came to light Monday morning.

So what do I make of Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement of Mitt Romney? My guess is this tells us that our gut instincts about candidates are usually right. Politicians are, as a rule, exactly who we think they are.

Despite his protestations, Tim Pawlenty was always an establishment politician. This is not to say he was a liberal — he was a darn good governor of Minnesota. But he was clearly out of touch with the tea party zeitgeist, no matter how hard he tried to fit in. Everyone knew this — and it wasn’t just because of his style or moderate temperament, either — it was  also his pragmatic, if center-right, politics, too. Rather than telling us something new about Pawlenty, his endorsement of Mitt Romney — so early in the race — confirms what we suspected of him all along.

My only question is whether or not Pawlenty had today in mind when he decided not to attack Romney (“Obamneycare”) during that New Hampshire GOP debate.

We may never know.

But if Pawlenty’s endorsement of Romney was curious, Romney’s backing of Sen. Orrin Hatch for reelection in Utah was equally intriguing to me.

One one hand, the move makes little sense for Hatch. His aim has been to run to the right in order to avoid a primary fight. Recent endorsements by Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Steve Forbes seem to fit that strategy quite nicely. A Romney endorsement, though, seems to muddy the waters. Right?

If Hatch were running a national campaign, that would probably be true — but Hatch needs to win in Utah where Mitt Romney is very popular. So that explains what’s in it for him. But why would Mitt Romney agree to endorse Hatch?

I suppose it could be that Romney is helping a friend out. Loyalty is honorable, but so rare in high-stakes politics that one doubts it could be the sole motive.

Could it be that — unlike in 2008 — Romney has given up trying to pose as the most conservative candidate running for president? It seems obvious this is now the case.

Romney will likely never call himself the “moderate” alternative to Bachmann and Perry, but looking at his recent criticism of Rick Perry’s Social Security comments, Romney seems to be positioning himself quite comfortably as the “mainstream,” establishment candidate to beat.

Pawlenty lost because he tried to be something he wasn’t. Romney is finally coming to terms with who he really is. Politicians are almost always exactly who we think they are.

Matt K. Lewis