A few moments ago, I saw some tweets from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd noting that while most politicos’ responses to the Obama speech have been somewhat muted and hedged (on both sides of the aisle) the big stand out was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who responded with a MacArthuresque paean to victory. Pawlenty told Bill O’Reilly: “I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war. He said we need to end the war ‘responsibly.’ When America goes to war, America needs to win.”
The merits of the remarks are one thing. What it tells us about the GOP presidential race is quite another.
This is turning into a good illustration of a recurring pattern, especially in presidential politics. Pawlenty’s big whiff in the New Hampshire debate wasn’t so damaging because of the thing itself, though it was plenty bad. The real problem was the on-going damage he shot that night like an arrow into the future. Saddled with the image of a cowardly or cowering figure, he now feels compelled to react to most every new situation with the most he-manish, over-the-top or high-noon sort of answer. But rather than erase that impression, it embeds it because it all comes off forced if not farcical, focusing our attention on his shortcoming rather than convincing anyone it doesn’t exist.
Now he’s stuck in a feedback loop like the one Al Gore got into back in 1999/2000. Rightly or wrongly, once critics pegged Gore as the guy who was ‘stiff’ and unlikeable, he spent the next year oscillating between ‘Al Gore’s so stiff jokes’ and painful faux likability moments. And just like that Pawlenty is now off on a media tour channeling some weird composite of Winston Churchill and Tony Soprano. And coming from such a soft guy, it only makes him seem more preposterous.
What’s weird about this is that Pawlenty has been telegraphing this over-compensation for months. Watch this Independence Day-esque pre-campaign video campaign video Pawlenty released back in January (“Courage to Stand“) with its man-of-destiny, action hero accents …
The more he struggles the deeper he’s stuck. For all his reckless courage, this brown paper bag has overmanned him.