Tim Pawlenty thought he’d go after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), thereby showing he really isn’t a wimp. The objective was to dent Bachmann’s image; instead Pawlenty has been mowed down by some of the most effective-counterpunching we have seen in recent memory.

Pawlenty went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to repeat his dig on Bachmann’s experience. Bachmann’s campaign leveled the boom on the former Minnesota governor in a written statement:

These are serious times that require serious solutions — not more of the same. Being right on the issues is critical — it is what the American people demand. Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government.

Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, ‘The era of small government is over… the government has to be more proactive and more aggressive.’ That’s the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan.

Actions speak louder than words. When I was fighting against the unconstitutional individual mandate in healthcare, Governor Pawlenty was praising it. I have fought against irresponsible spending while Governor Pawlenty was leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota. I fought cap-and-trade. Governor Pawlenty backed cap-and-trade when he was Governor of Minnesota and put Minnesota into the multi-state Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. While Governor Pawlenty was praising TARP — the $700 billion bailout in 2008 — I worked tirelessly against it and voted against it. I have demonstrated leadership and the courage of my convictions to change Washington, stop wasteful spending, lower taxes, put Americans back to work and turn our economy around. I’m a hard worker who exhibits that courage in the halls of Congress and will take that same conviction to the White House.

At 55, I bring a record of success in the real world in business, the law, and in fighting for our principles. I am self-made. I worked my way through school. I have a post-doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I worked in the US Federal Tax Court as a federal tax litigation attorney. I am a job creator. My husband and I built a successful private company from scratch. In Minnesota, I led an unprecedented effort to reform education — repealing intrusive regulations that hampered the ability of parents and educators to provide a quality education for their children. Since coming to Congress, I have led the fight against the job-killing Obamacare legislation, bringing tens of thousands of Americans to Washington to fight for free market healthcare. From my position on the Financial Services Committee, I have seen first-hand the damage done to the American economy by the scandals of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and I have been deeply involved in making sure that such calamities never happen again. And I was the first Member of Congress to propose the repeal of the Dodd-Frank legislation — another job-killer.

I have also been a leader of the Tea Party movement — a national movement that transformed American politics in 2010. In Washington, I am the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus, bringing the voice of the people into the corridors of power. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that were not it not for last year’s elections, we would not be having a fight about the debt ceiling. Instead, the Washington big spenders would simply have approved trillions in new spending and debt.

That’s my record. It’s a record of action. Real world actions speak louder than the words of career politicians.”

If it were a prize fight you’d have to stop it. Notice how Bachmann doesn’t bother to rebut Pawlenty; that would be punching down. She lets her spokeswoman dispense with him.

Tony Fratto, a former Bush official and now a communications consultant, had this reaction on Sunday to Bachmann’s retort: “Strong response. Governor Pawlenty is running against the wrong candidate and on the wrong issues. He has to be talking issues, not character. It’s not endearing to GOP voters.”

But issues are a problem for Pawlenty when facing off against Bachmann. After Bachmann’s blast, Pawlenty’s spokesman tried out this line: “Congresswoman Bachmann has her facts wrong. The truth is that there is very little difference between Governor Pawlenty and Congresswoman Bachmann on their issue positions.”Oops — a multi-base error. Bachmann’s campaign came roaring back with a statement that read in part:

[I]n fact, there is very little difference between Governor Pawlenty’s past positions and Barack Obama’s positions on several critical issues facing Americans. On issues such as unconstitutional healthcare mandates, climate change regulations, and Wall Street bailouts, there’s very little daylight, indeed, between Governor Pawlenty’s record and the Obama administration’s policies.

And of course, President Obama would surely applaud Governor Pawlenty’s 2006 statement that the ‘era of small government is over,’ and that the government will have to be ‘more proactive and more aggressive.’

Governor Pawlenty has changed his positions in recent years, but he can’t run from his big government record as governor of Minnesota that left the state’s budget in a multi-billion dollar mess. That’s not executive experience we need.

As Michele Bachmann said earlier today, she ‘has a lifetime record of success and action in the real world. Real-world actions speak louder than his words as a career politician.’ And so the more Republican voters examine Michele Bachmann’s record and Governor Pawlenty’s record, the more they will see that there is a world of difference between the two.

Ouch. This was a foolish gambit at a time when Pawlenty is trying to portray himself as a tough guy. Instead, he came out looking poorly on the issues. And he got his ears boxed by a campaign obviously prepared to take on hits. The problem with attacking the leader and then losing (badly) to her, as may very well be the case in Ames, is that the attacker is exposed as feckless and ineffective. One senses Pawlenty’s campaign is on life support.

As for Bachmann, this is no doubt an effort to ensure victory in the Ames straw poll. It is also a warning to her other opponents: Don’t mess with the lady from Minnesota. Unlike the former governor, she is tough as nails.

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