As you know, Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota (2003-2011), has gone from top tier candidate in the Republican nomination battle to just holding on for dear life with polls in many states that make him indistinguishable from the Santorums and McCotters and Cains of the field. But remember, Pawlenty’s strategy in recent months is one that allows for these awful numbers. At least for a while.
The strategy of the Pawlenty campaign is an electability strategy within the GOP primary — one that bears some resemblance to the one John Kerry ran successfully (in the primaries) in 2004. The thinking goes — or went — like this. You’ve got Romney on the left of the process (I know, weird to think). But he’s got the package of past (relative) social liberalism, the health care reform albatross and a generalized belief among many conservatives that as a conservative or perhaps in general Mitt’s just a phony. There’s a decent chunk of the GOP nominating electorate who just won’t get behind Mitt (something his current poll numbers back up). To the right you’ve got Michele Bachmann, someone Pawlenty knows well from his days as governor when Bachmann was a force for whackiness in the state legislature. She’s now the darling of the Right. But there’s a big chunk of the GOP nominating electorate who just won’t, can’t get behind her because … well, she’s just nuts — yes, my words but something basically all the GOP operatives in all the campaigns are happy to tell you privately.
But back to Pawlenty. In this view, you’ve got a Venn Diagram, with Mitt and Bachmann on each side. But between them, you’ve got a big overlap of people who are either unMittable or unBachable. And the thinking is that all those people could probably get behind Pawlenty because he ain’t Mitt and he ain’t nuts. And once that’s clear, they will get behind him.
Whether you think that all makes sense or not is one thing but there is a certain logic to it. And remember, though there are a lot of differences, Kerry relied on something kinda similar in 2004.
But here’s the problem: Rick Perry.
Say you’re really right wing and you love Michele Bachmann but you know that’s just not going to happen. Solution? Rick Perry. And say you’re a Republican primary goer and you just cannot, will not support Mitt Romney. Solution? Rick Perry.
The whole dynamic of the 2012 cycle so far has been Mitt Romney, the technocrat and relatively pragmatic country club Republican trying to remake himself into a 10th Amendment Tea Partier. And without any really plausible other candidate on the right, so far it’s sort of worked. But now you’ve got Rick Perry. He’s Michele Bachmann with The Crazy (tm) washed off (or at least enough of it to get the GOP nomination).
That’s bad news for Pawlenty. And maybe Mitt too.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.