The Loss of Tim Pawlenty: Stop Giving Iowans a Try Just Because They Are Contrary

— Richard E. Vatz

Embarrassing disclosure: early on in former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential candidacy, I briefly spelled his name incorrectly, omitting “W,” which is, metaphorically and parenthetically, what Republicans wish to do in this election go-round.

None of which is relevant to the point that, of the active candidates, Tim Pawlenty was my favorite to be elected president of the United States in 2012.

Gov. Pawlenty’s loss and consequent withdrawal were, I suppose, condign punishment for me because I detest the Iowa straw poll as simply an invalid and improper way to determine the viability of a presidential candidate. The fact that that state also has the disproportionately influential Iowa Caucuses seals the case of unfairness in presidential primaries.

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The total number of votes cast in the Ames straw poll was about 17,000, or .00024% of Barack Obama’s winning popular vote in the 2008 election. The vote is completely unrepresentative even of Iowa Republicans. It is as well not predictive even of who will win the Iowa caucuses, as Mitt Romney won in 2007, and Mike Huckabee won the caucuses. But reality states: if donors will not give even as a result of a bogus, contaminated plebiscite, you cannot win a race for president.

The vote, not exclusively open to Republicans, was held pursuant to a dinner, an ad hoc bit of campaigning, little casino bribery, etc. The only thing missing was the dancing girls, if indeed they were missing.

The first place and second place winners were Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul, neither of whom will or should win the Republican nomination.

The third place finisher, who has now dropped out of the race, is Tim Pawlenty, again this writer’s favorite.

I am a Howard Baker Republican, favoring a solid conservative candidate who is reliable, lacks unpredictability, supports cutting out-of-control entitlement spending, supports responsible internationalism in foreign policy, and someone who will not surprise me with crazy opinions, such as opposing the taking out of Osama bin Laden (like Ron Paul, whom I like in a lot of non-presidential ways, and with whom I share a Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award).

I did like Mitt Romney, although his health care plan for Massachusetts is almost as liberal and irresponsible as the president’s (take a look at its psychiatric coverage — Lord), although he says it would not be nationally required. Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have the “unpredictable” problem; Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman are not going to win — period. Readers of my opinions on the Red Maryland blog and elsewhere know I like Sarah Palin but do not support her as presidential material. I am reserving opinion on Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

But I really liked Gov. Pawlenty — he was a successful governor with executive, administrative experience, reasonable on healthcare reform, good on immigration, right on Iraq from the beginning, and reasonable on foreign policy in general. On virtually every issue Gov. Pawlenty seems to have the rhetoric of reason and the style of forceful but not close-minded advocacy.

His was the candidacy of substance-over-style, contemplative when necessary, powerful on rare occasion. Such rhetorical balance often doesn’t go well in primaries dominated by the rare conservative quasi-mob mentality (what do you say to this, Ann Coulter?), thankfully missing in most Republican venues, but not the Iowa straw vote.

Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University

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