Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard writes that Tim Pawlenty can grab the presidential nomination by raising enough money to appear competitive, not alienating anybody and managing expectations in the Iowa caucuses. He writes:

In conclusion, it would be highly inadvisable to confuse Pawlenty’s mild-mannered nature for electoral weakness. In fact, it might just be the opposite. Pawlenty as a candidate could be an ideal second choice for the party’s nomination, in many voters’ eyes. But that could work to his advantage: In many cycles, that’s what it comes down to, and 2012 doesn’t really appear to have an obvious first choice. And so, Pawlenty’s goal over the next 10 months should be to hang in there until the Republican party winds its way over to him.

I agree Pawlenty could win it, but I have a very different take on how he could pull it off. Simply hiding in the weeds waiting for flawed candidates to flounder is a mistake. In fact, in the 24/7 news environment it is impossible to pull this off.

Moreover, the Republican candidate is going to have to make not just a policy argument (against Obamacare, against over-regulation) but also a leadership argument. As Ronald Reagan did, the winning Republican will need to make the case that the incumbent hasn’t led — on domestic and foreign policy. For Pawlenty to be that guy he’ll need to assert himself, not recede. He could benefit from a few “I paid for this microphone!” moments.

It is true that Republicans privately are going through the process of elimination, but to capture the base and eventually the general-election electorate, Pawlenty will need to make the affirmative case for himself.