He also derided candidates who just “flap their jaws” rather than get things done.
At that point, Pawlenty still wasn’t singling out Bachmann by name, although the implication was obvious. By Sunday, when he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he was no longer so restrained. Asked by host David Gregory about Bachmann, Pawlenty offered a biting critique.
“I like congresswoman Bachmann,” he said. “I’ve campaigned for her. I respect her. But her record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent. It’s nonexistent. And so we’re not looking for folks who, you know, just have speech capabilities, we’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I’ve done that. She hasn’t.”
Pawlenty is actively working to play down expectations for his performance in the August straw poll in Ames, Iowa, which not long ago he would have been favored to win because Romney is not competing.
In an interview with The Post last week, Pawlenty pointed to a recent survey in the Des Moines Register, which showed Romney and Bachmann topping the field. Pawlenty ran a poor sixth. He said he hopes to show progress by the time of the straw poll, which of course he will, given that Romney and some others are not on the ballot. At this point, Ames is largely a two-person battle between Pawlenty and Bachmann, although Ron Paul could be a factor as well.
Defeat in Ames would be another setback for the former governor, who will need a caucus victory in Iowa next year if he hopes to win the nomination. Pawlenty says that a loss in the straw poll would not be enough to knock him out of the race. His team is confident that, whatever the relative standing of the candidates today, he has more staying power than Bachmann.
Republican strategists partial to Pawlenty believe that Bachmann, given her record and history, could stumble in the months ahead. They hope to profit from any mistakes by the Minnesota congresswoman.
Bachmann fired back at criticism that she lacks executive experience, saying that’s no substitute for supporting the right policies. For the most part, however, she prefers to ignore Pawlenty’s barbs. She is counting on her grass-roots supporters to make a statement for her.
When she opened her Iowa headquarters in suburban Des Moines on a hot afternoon last Saturday, she issued a spirited call for everyone to mobilize for Ames. “How many of you can fill up a car, a bus, a wagon, a train, a sleigh?” she said. “Get your skis on. Get your roller skates on. Get your ice skates on, but get to the straw poll in Ames, Iowa.”
All of which makes Pawlenty’s handling of the Family Leader pledge so telling. His decision will not just show how worried Pawlenty is about the Bachmann threat. It will also will reveal how he sees himself and what kind of candidate he wants to be.