11/01/2011 06:35 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2012

Late Returns: Let's Reconsider Tim Pawlenty's Candidacy, For Some Reason!

Should we spend some time wondering about what might have happened with Tim Pawlenty if he hadn't bailed on the 2012 race? Probably not, but whatever. Over at The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner ponders an alternate history in which Tim Pawlenty stayed in the 2012 race, and speculates that some stuff might have happened, unless it didn't happen, in which case it wouldn't have happened:

The conventional wisdom several months ago was that a credible challenger with some establishment backing would rise to take on Romney. Pawlenty auditioned for this role, and floundered. He had a weak debate where he didn't attack Romneycare head-on, and his campaigning was leaden. After struggling through a few tough fundraising months, he quit the race, endorsed Romney, and is likely to be, say, a HUD Secretary in a Romney administration.

It seems possible, however, that Pawlenty badly miscalculated. If we have learned one thing from this election, it is that every candidate will get his or her time in the sun. Bachmann did. Cain did. Even Gingrich is likely to, as Ed Kilgore explains here. Surely this would have been true of Pawlenty, who is a much more credible alternative to Romney. What's more, when Pawlenty quit it was not even clear that Perry would be a strong candidate (he has not been). Paul Ryan and Chris Christie were always longshots to enter the race. The scenario we are seeing now was very plausible.

Surely it would have been true? The big reason it wasn't true was that there wasn't a single member of the elite conservative commentariat who was willing to take Pawlenty even a little bit seriously. Their bland, Midwestern savior was Mitch Daniels. From there they professed a vain hope that some combination of Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush would run, in spite of the fact that none of those men expressed much of an interest of joining the race (though Christie was always quick to point out how flattered he was by all the attention).

With the benefit of hindsight, sure, we can see that Rick Perry hasn't been a strong candidate, but if we're working from the "conventional wisdom" of "several months ago," then we should remember that Perry was thought of as a sure-fire blockbuster entrant. And indeed, a day after the Ames Straw Poll, Pawlenty found himself staring up at a new top-tier candidate in Perry, who seemed willing to attack Romney in the ways he had failed to, and who boasted a fundraising capacity that Pawlenty could not match.

"The best objection to this argument has to do with money," says Chotiner. It's certainly an objection. But I sort of think that the way everyone who mattered spent months projecting an extreme indifference to Pawlenty across all conceivable dimensions is a better argument, considering the fact that it's a big reason why TPaw could not raise money (and why many of the people he'd bused to Ames ran off and voted for other people).

But for what it's worth, let's recall that Pawlenty himself has begun pondering the what-might-have-beens, telling the Associated Press that he'd have stayed in the running, "if I would have known then what I know now." That he was telling the AP this at a time when he was serving as a national co-chair of Mitt Romney's campaign says all you need to know about why no one was particularly interested in having him in the race.

[The New Republic]


Bruce Bartlett sizes up Rick Perry's tax plan: "Mr. Perry’s plan cannot be taken seriously. I don’t think it’s meant to be, at least by those of us who don’t plan on voting in Republican primaries." [The New York Times]

Political experts agree! If some more bad stuff happens to Herman Cain, it could be very bad for Herman Cain! [First Read; The Note]

Cain's doing just fine in North Carolina, even after the Politico story, in case you were wondering. [Public Policy Polling]

But now is not the time to be giving answers like this in interviews. [Taegan Goddard's Political Wire]

Take heart, America! The grown-ups who schedule the actual presidential debates between President Obama and his competitor to be named later will limit themselves, as per usual, to three debates, in striking contrast to the 43,729 scheduled between the GOP's primary contenders. [Politico]

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