So I was listening to the audio feed of FOX NEWS in the car and they did a story about how the Pawlenty campaign was failing to gain traction. They circled around to the explanation that Pawlenty was too "Minnesota nice." I really hate that meme.
Pawlenty isn't nice is the sense of being weak. As governor of Minnesota, he took on the spending interests in a Democratic-leaning state over and over again. He won more times than he lost.
He isn't even nice in the sense of being nice. In his first post-2008 election CPAC speech, he suggested that conservatives take inspiration from Elin Nordegren's alleged golf club wielding attack on spouse Tiger Woods. Aside from being buffoonish, that wasn't very nice. Pawlenty's next CPAC speech was less overtly hostile. It featured the (pseudo) emotional high point of Pawlenty saying "And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country." like he was auditioning for the WWE.
Pawlenty went on a Sunday talk show and talked about "Obamneycare" and then flinched from repeating the term to Romney's face at a debate later that week while failing to articulate a coherent critique of either Romneycare or Obamacare. I can think of several things to call that behavior, but "nice" doesn't come to mind.
The thing is, Pawlenty isn't failing to gain ground because he is being to nice and he can't gain ground by trying to seem ruff and tuff. Where is there to go? Is he going to tell conservatives to imitate cannibals and then rip off his own shirt? Is he going to compare Romneycare to some genocide?
I think back to Pawlenty in the first Republican presidential debate (the one where Bachmann and Romney weren't there to outshine him.) He gave an answer on the Bin Laden killing that vaguely implied he was in favor of enhanced interrogation and maybe waterboarding. Then the moderator asked directly about waterboarding. Pawlenty danced around and didn't give a definitive answer. Then the moderator asked for a show of hands for who would authorize waterboarding. Pawlenty raised his hand. After that debate, the evasive Herman Cain got credit from a Frank Luntz focus group for giving real answers. Compared to Pawlenty, he was. Pawlenty's problem is that he hasn't got a compelling message, hasn't got a compelling critique of his rivals and hasn't demonstrated an authentic-seeming personality.
But despite all of Pawlenty's missteps, I still think he has significant political upside given the current state of the Republican field.
Run Bobby Run.