Monday, August 15, 2011


Dave Weigel looks at Tim Pawlenty and hints at what he thinks might have been -- but I don't agree that Pawlenty ever could have been anything except what he is now:

If things had gone a little differently in 2008, John McCain would have ignored the advice of Lindsey Graham, and his gut, and chosen the safest possible running mate. That would have been Tim Pawlenty, the two-term governor of Minnesota. Graham's predicition was that Pawlenty would perform fine, and help the ticket to a seven-point loss -- which is what McCain got anyway. But a Vice Presidential Candidate Pawlenty would have become, by default, a national star.

Er ... maybe. Yes, he would have become well known -- but well known enough to overcome the tides of history and the mass delusion in his own party? Read on:

McCain didn't choose Pawlenty. He chose Sarah Palin, which started the GOP base's love affair with an uncompromising, wildly-swinging mother of five. Pawlenty remained governor, ending his term with a successful confrontation with Democrats, and entering the 2012 presidential race as the candidate most pundits could see a rational path to the presidency for. But the Republican base thought it caught a glimpse of the next Ronald Reagan in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, it fell in love all over again with Tea Party politicians who declared total war on Barack Obama. It was also ready, in a way it had not been ready before, to give its presidential nomination to a woman. There might have been an opening for Michele Bachmann anyway.... The rise of Palin, though, created a need and a certainty among Republicans for an exciting female conservative candidate.

OK, now Weigel has really lost me. Is he arguing that if Palin hadn't come along, the idea of supporting a woman for president would never have occurred to wingnuts? So who was Palin's Palin? Who gave them the idea that Palin was their savior? Hillary Clinton? Margaret Thatcher? Jeane Kirkpatrick? Does he really believe that the crazy base needed to be jolted into supporting someone demographically precedent-setting for them (with the implication being that there would be no Michele Bachmann ascendancy without Palin)? So how do you explain their flirtation early this year with Herman Cain? How do you explain Allen West's popularity on the right? Is that a reaction to the Clarence Thomas nomination fight in really, really slow motion?

Palin didn't make Pawlenty's 2012 campaign untenable. At best, if he'd been the Republicans' #2 in '08, this year he'd have been what Joe Lieberman was in the '04 Democratic race -- a wannabe star who was left behind by changes in the party. It's not an exact analogy because I think Pawlenty in '08 would have tried to be the fake wingnut he tried to be this year -- McCain tacked further right, you'll recall, and I'm sure he would have wanted Pawlenty to do the same -- and the phoniness of that act would have been obvious four years earlier.

I'm saying all this because you really can't blame Sarah Palin for dragging the party to the right -- that was already happening in the McCain campaign; Palin just did it more sincerely and train-wreck-compellingly than Pawlenty would have. If you want to blame anyone, blame the Kochs and Dick Armey and the rest of the proto-teabag crowd (hello, Murdoch and Ailes) for looking at Obama's election and concluding that the way to respond was massive extreme-right resistance and Astroturf Alinskyism, using Ayn Rand's novels as sacred texts. In retrospect it was clear that the party was going to head that way no matter what, Palin or no Palin. It had been drifting that way anyway, under the tutelage of Murdoch and talk radio; the tea party movement just accelerated the trend.

So, in short, it was FreedomWorks and Fox that killed T-Paw's candidacy, not Sarah Palin.

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