In a GOP presidential field that lacks a centre of gravity, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty thinks he could be the last man standing.Michael Crowley interviews the 2012 White House hopeful for tomorrow’s Time magazine, noting that Pawlenty has entered the race primarily because he thinks he can win.
“I think I’m the one candidate in the race who can unite and excite the whole conservative movement and the Republican Party,” Pawlenty says, arguing that he can appeal at once to conservatives focused on social issues, the budget and national security. “I think most of the other candidates are going to appeal to one of those buckets. But I can appeal to all of them deeply and authentically, and I’ve got the record to back it up.”
But can he beat Barack Obama? Pawlenty points out that he has an appealing blue-collar biography that “defies Republican stereotypes” and could endear him to voters across party lines.
Pawlenty might be electable, Crowley points out, but his “I’m running because I can win” argument is that it lacks any broader sense of purpose. There is no clear reason why Pawlenty wants to be president.
When I ask Pawlenty, during a second interview in Des Moines, Iowa, exactly when he decided he was up to the grand challenge of the presidency, he answers in less than grandiose terms, explaining how he’d set up a political-action committee in 2009. I try again, saying I am curious about when he first imagined himself worthy of the history books, ready to send soldiers to their deaths and endure the national stage’s harsh toll. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I wish I had a good answer for you on that.” Pawlenty says it is not an idea that crossed his mind 15 or 20 years ago but that as he considered life as a relatively young ex-governor, he felt obliged not to take the easy path and “go make some money and play hockey and drink beer.” He adds that he almost didn’t run at all. “Mary and I talked about this at length, and many times, and it was a close call,” he says, mentioning his wife of 24 years. He adds with a laugh, “It could have gone the other way for all the reasons you’re suggesting.”
Without some sort of political vision, Pawlenty could have a hard convincing voters why they should want him in the White House. It may be part of the reason that Pawlenty’s campaign has yet to catch fire.