The Democratic National Committee has been having some fun with comments Tim Pawlenty gave to Time’s Michael Crowley about why he wants to be president. The part the DNC likes is the part where Pawlenty says “You know, I don’t know. I wish I had a good answer for you.” But reading the whole exchange, which Crowley posted in Pawlenty’s defense, I’m somewhat struck by how unpracticed and unpersuasive Pawlenty’s asnwer is:
TIME: You think about the way Haley Barbour phrased it when he said he didn’t want to run. I think he phrased it well: You have to be ready for a 10 year commitment to this onslaught. And you are going to go into the history books, and you will be sending people to their deaths. And all that gravity, it must start stirring up, I don’t know, in the middle of the night. I mean, in other words, surely before the fall of 2009 you started to think to yourself, ‘Can I do this? Am I one of these chosen few in history?’ And where did that germinate from?
PAWLENTY: You know, I don’t know. I wish I had a good answer for you for that. I didn’t seriously consider it until recently, and I could have gone either way with the decision in the sense that over this last holiday season, Mary and I talked about this at length, and many times, and it was a close call. I mean, it could have easily gone the other way [laughs] for all the reasons youre suggesting. [laughs] You know, I turned 50 last year, and I’m realizing I’m — if I’m not in the fourth quarter, I’m in the third quarter of the chronological clock. I was governor for eight years and majority leader for four and have done a lot, and so you start to think about, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just go make some money and play golf and play hockey and drink some beer, and life will be good. But then you start thinking, ‘Well, how cynical is that? You know, to take the easy path, take the path that is just comfortable but is not as meaningful. And then you get inspired to make a difference. But it was a close call, I’ll be very candid with you. It could have gone either way, and I struggled with the decision in the sense that – not that I don’t think I can do the job, or couldn’t win. But was it really right for me and my family? But in terms of any other notions early on, or, you know, 20 years ago or 15 years ago or something, I never really thought about it in concrete terms until kind of late in my governorship.
The “why do you want to be president?” question has been a staple since it helped sink Ted Kennedy’s campaign in 1980. Every potential candidate knows they need to be prepared for it. But Pawlenty’s answer doesn’t sound like he had it rehearsed, and it doesn’t sound like he had it clear in his own mind. I think it’s dangerous to read too deeply into off-the-cuff answers to unexpected questions, but Pawlenty is going to have to do better than “because I’m getting older” and “I didn’t want to start taking it easy yet.”