The latest media buzz, usually sourced to unknown people who talked to other unknown people, is that former governor Tim Pawlenty is moving up in th VP sweepstakes. To be blunt, I don’t believe a word of it. People at the very top of the Romney campaign are “happily ignorant,” as one put it, about the process. The people who know anything aren’t talking and the ones who are talking don’t know anything.
The Pawlenty buzz has, as one Capitol Hill Republican put it, all the makings of a trial balloon by Pawlenty fans (including a number of Beltway media types who find him an unscary Republican).
Why isn’t it likely to be Pawlenty? There are lots of reasons, especially if you consider Mitt Romney’s preference for whip-smart people and his need for help in the anti-Obama attack wars.
To begin with, Pawlenty ran a dreadful presidential race, showed no rhetorical flare and was a limp debater. He’s got a nice working-class life story, but he lacks a number of critical assets that Romney is no doubt looking for.
Pawlenty is bright enough, but no one will mistake his wattage for the brilliant wonkery of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or the street smarts of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Unlike Ryan on domestic reform or Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on budgets and trade, Pawlenty doesn’t display exceptional expertise in any one topic. He’s sort of a generalist and one who hasn’t been in the thick of the critical battles in recent years on the debt and entitlement reform. He also lacks foreign policy experience (although, for a governor, showed a grasp of national security issues in the primary) .
In sum, there is no good reason to pick him. He’s not going to tie down Minnesota (he couldn’t even do that during the primary). He’s not as effective at debunking President Obama as Ryan would be, not as exciting as Christie and not as impressive (in his gubernatorial record) as Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is far more expert in national security. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is more expert in energy and a more capable attack dog (a common role for VPs). Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is more innovative. I am hard pressed to think of anything (expertise, experience or personal qualities) of which you can say, “Well Pawlenty is the best in that department.”
His selection would be unlikely to hurt Romney (especially if the main disagreement between them, Obamacare, is struck down), but neither would he add anything to the ticket or to a Romney White House. I frankly can’t imagine Romney seeking Pawlenty’s advice on a policy or strategic decision.
In the VP selection process, candidates are swayed by many factors. But there is always the undefinable “chemistry” between the nominee and a VP contender. Does the candidate look like he’s having a good time with his potential running mate? Do you see the mutual respect and the potential for collaboration? With Pawlenty I just don’t see it.
No one actually knows who’s in the “top spot” for VP or if there is one. But Pawlenty seems an unlikely figure to outpace all the other capable contenders.