A reader writes:
You said of Pawlenty, "And one that I simply cannot imagine winning really enthusiastic support from the base or beating Barack Obama." I don't know if the two halves of this disjunction were supposed to be connected, but they're not. You're making the same mistake the McCain campaign inexplicably made in 2008 - thinking the Republican base matters. It doesn't.
Unless they can get the Amish back out like they did in 2004, there isn't some great untapped reserve of Republican base voters to appeal to. The same Republicans who always vote will vote, more or less. The beauty for someone like Pawlenty (or McCain, had he realized it) is that the far right is now relatively electorally inert. Short of a photo emerging of Pawlenty peeing on a crucifix, most people on the far right have been backed into a corner where they have no choice but to vote against Obama, who will have no problem turning out the base on his own.
The real game is in the center - people with moderately conservative values but who couldn't care less about gay people being in committed relationships so long as someone gets them some damn jobs and stops taking their money for liberal bullshit. (The real trick to winning is to somehow convince people that you can do both those things at once, even though they seem to suggest almost exactly opposite courses of action - yay Reagan!). Basically, I'm talking about prototypical Mid-Westerners. Alabama ain't going blue anytime soon, but if Palin were nominated, Ohio sure would. I don't see how someone like Pawlenty or Daniels can get nominated, but one of them doing so is the ONLY realistic chance (other than a particularly nasty second economic dip) the Republicans have of beating Obama.
Today you said that you can't imagine Pawlenty either winning the Republican nomination or defeating Barack Obama. I have to demur on both counts. After taking a look at Pawlenty's new campaign ad, I am fairly certain that the punditocracy is dramatically underestimating the unassuming governor from Minnesota.
First, it's important to note just who created the ad for Pawlenty, and who will be doing a lot of media work for him. It's Lucas Baiano, a former Hillary '08 supporter and media guy. Pawlenty is in a perfect position to become a hub for the Clinton Independents, who want a president to focus like a laser beam on the middle class, and who think that Obama is too elitist, out of touch, etc. Pawlenty can do this with his Sam's Club image in a way that Romney couldn't, for class reasons, and in a way that Palin couldn't, for ideological reasons (i.e., she's a product of the base, while Pawlenty seems more malleable).
Second, take a look at the imagery in the ad. It's all Northern cities, Rust Belt metropolises that have fallen victim to globalization, and to the dearth of manufacturing jobs and other low-skill jobs that used to give blue collar whites a halfway decent life. Pawlenty is not going to bring those jobs back. But he's not going to tell anyone that. In fact, if you were a non-ideological swing voter and you saw that ad, and you didn't really understand the difference between "right" and "left," you might come away believing that Pawlenty's plan was to bring the manufacturing jobs back home. It's sort of like Clinton in 1992. He didn't really have a discernible plan to fix your pain, but boy, could he feel your pain. Americans will choose the guy who can feel their pain over the guy who can fix it every time.
Third, Pawlenty chooses his words in order to evoke the populist sentiment that exists beneath the surface in America in hard times, but not enough to turn himself into a Sarah Palin. His is a softer populism. From the ad: we're going to take our government back. Back from whom? Pawlenty doesn't say. The listener is left to fill in the blank with his or her favoite baddie (big corporations, unions, the French, etc). And then the powerful ending: together we'll restore America. Pawlenty plans to contrast his optimism with the supposed managed decline being wrought by Obama. It's pitch perfect for swing voters, particularly downscale whites who live in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. That could be where this election is won. Obama could win every granola Colorado voter and still lose because of Pennsylvania. That's why I'm saying that Pawlenty, a Republican who understands blue collar whites, shouldn't be underestimated.