Tim Pawlenty’s Fatal Flaw Is Rick Perry’s Strength

Gov. Rick Perry can play up both his conservative social values and his able governing.


The rapid demise of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recalled the wisdom of Lincoln-via-Jesus: A house divided against itself can't stand.

Pawlenty sought above all to position himself as a pragmatic, results-oriented, problem-solving former executive of a blue state. But the more firmly-established former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney boasts the identical credential—this in addition to his private-sector experience.

So he tried to differentiate himself by outflanking Romney's right, first with a fumbling attack on the latter's healthcare record (the infamous "Obamneycare" contretemps) and next with a laugher of an economic proposal.

As my friend Amy Gardner of the Washington Post reports, Pawlenty's "Mr. Conservative" reboot was an utter flop: "It wasn't who he was, supporters said, and so he either came across forced or he hesitated so much that he left the opposite impression than he intended." [See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.]

Pawlenty shouldn't feel too bad, however: Romney himself mounted a similar campaign against the too-moderate Sen. John McCain in 2008. True, he didn't flame out as quickly as Pawlenty; he just wasted a bigger pile of cash.

There's another parallel: Pawlenty in '11 battled the same kind of thorn in the side that Romney did in '08. This year, Pawlenty was done in by the fire-breathing Rep. Michele Bachmann; in the last presidential season, Romney found he couldn't dispatch former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the candidate most trusted by social conservatives. [Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]

All this ideological positioning and niche-occupying brings into sharp relief Texas Gov. Rick Perry's greatest potential strength: He can—or will try to—offer Republicans the best of both worlds: the results-oriented governor as well as the ideologically unspoiled standard-bearer.

Unlike any other Republican candidate, Perry can both tout a record of job-creation and pray for rain.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat calls Perry the "conservative id made flesh."

This isn't even the half of it. He's actually the neo-Confederate id made flesh. Take his flirtation with secessionist extremism; his asinine rhetoric about the unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare; his vision of an "inconsequential" federal government — what we have here is not so much a conservative as as a Calhounian.

Will Romney wilt under the pressure of the Perry-Bachmann tag team? Or will he triangulate above it?

Funnily enough, in last week's debate in Iowa, former Sen. Rick Santorum highlighted a territory that remains unoccupied in the current GOP field. He said: "There are things the states can't do. Abraham Lincoln said the states do not have the right to do wrong. I respect the 10th Amendment, but we are a nation that has values." [See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.]

Santorum was speaking, of course, in a context of bedrock social values, but the principle applies equally to economics.

Until recently—you need only look to the model of George W. Bush circa 1999—it was a mainstream conservative view that America is one nation.

The Perry-Bachmann-Palin-Tea Party-neo-Bircher juggernaut has shattered this consensus.

Will Romney—will anyone—run as a Lincoln Republican? 

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