Governor Tim Pawlenty’s CPAC speech got a generally favorable, but not wildly enthusiastic, reception. The speech’s most commented-upon moment was when he urged conservatives to emulate Elin Nordegren by taking a 9-iron to the federal government:
This strikes me as a weirdly inappropriate analogy on several levels. Today I (and many others) got an email from Peter Wehner that, after quoting Pawlenty’s 9-iron comment, said:
I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.
He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.
I’m afraid that’s a pretty fair assessment.
This part of Pawlenty’s speech was cheesy, too:
“When you listen to the elites and the pundits talk about the tea party movement, when they talk about us conservatives, they may not always say it explicitly, but implicit in their comments is, ‘Maybe they’re not as sophisticated because a lot of them didn’t go to the Ivy league schools,’” he said. “‘They’re from places like the heartland. They don’t hang out at chablis drinking, brie eating parties in San Francisco. They’re a little rough around the edges. They don’t dress like us. They actually enjoy shopping at Wal-Mart and Target. Sam’s Club Republicans.’”
Brie and chablis? That’s so…1980s.
I’m not sure what is going on here. It seems as though Pawlenty is trying to burnish his conservative credentials with these almost parodistic themes. He’s aware, no doubt, that some conservatives in Minnesota and elsewhere question whether he is really one of us. But he is, as I’ve told fellow conservatives many times. A good friend who knows Tim better than I do likes to say that whereas Ronald Reagan talked like a conservative but governed as a moderate, Tim Pawlenty talks like a moderate but governs as a conservative. I think that’s exactly right: Pawlenty is a genuinely nice guy with a moderate, judicious temperament, but his record is rock solid. He doesn’t need to pander by being, as Wehner put it, inauthentic.
What he does need is a new speechwriter. I dunno, maybe I’ll volunteer.
UPDATE: A close friend of the Governor’s writes:
The Governor is not a William Jennings Bryan-like prairie populist, railing against the milling and railroad interests. He, is however, a very successful governor with a wonderful personal story and the ability to connect with people of all backgrounds. He also has a gift for self deprecatory humor which he uses well.
He should skip the former and concentrate on the latter. In the unlikely event that the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is decided on the basis of which candidate is the more “populist,” then, in that event, it won’t be Pawlenty. But if it is decided the basis of which candidate can make a credible claim to supporting and promoting conservative philosophies, he has a real chance.