So, the departed presidential candidate and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has, rather quickly, thrown in with the former Gov. Mitt Romney campaign.
What could it mean?
Matt Yglesias writes that, in isolation, the Pawlenty endorsement won't materially reshape the race. But over time, a trend of establishment consolidation behind Romney could put the former Massachusetts governor over the top in the race against Gov. Rick Perry:
No single endorsement matters very much, but Romney's ability to wrack up a series of endorsements from blah plain vanilla current and former Republican elected officials probably matters a lot in a matchup against Perry.
Similarly, Liz Marlantes of the Christian Science Monitor called the endorsement a "small coup" for Romney.
Under normal circumstances, I'd probably agree.
But this time could be different. The reason why Pawlenty failed to gain traction as a candidate is the same reason why his endorsement of Romney won't amount to a hill of beans. Put simply, the Republican primary electorate of 2012 is not going to be bullied. [ Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
Pawlenty's initial status as a front-line candidate was entirely the fabrication of the national media. Like Romney, he seemed to have the right credentials. He seemed to have the right temperament. But when actual Republican voters were asked whom they preferred, Pawlenty simply never rated—and Romney continues to sag.
Pawlenty's slide into the Romney orbit is a nonevent: He's a largely irrelevant, establishment-backed figure who has been absorbed by the more successful establishment-backed figure.
The latest CNN poll on the GOP field ought to give establishment Republicans tremors. Even after a fairly lousy week of "Ponzi scheme" press, Rick Perry not only still commands a double-digit lead over Romney, he now has a decisive advantage in the category of electability, with 42 percent saying he has the strongest chance of beating President Obama (versus Romney's 26 percent).
With his USA Today column, in which he tacked from the far right to the center-right on Social Security, Perry signaled to the party that he's not on a kamikaze mission:
I am going to be honest with the American people. Our elected leaders must have the strength to speak frankly about entitlement reform if we are to right our nation's financial course and get the U.S.A. working again.
Perry made his point—and, henceforth, my guess is that Republican voters are going to let him soften his rhetoric when necessary.
Michele Bachmann's pathetically opportunistic plan to attack Perry on the Social Security is going to bounce off the Texan governor like a Lilliputian arrow, just like Pawlenty's friending of Romney.
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman's "lone voice of sanity" campaign is all but dead. Romney's just-crazy-enough campaign appears stalled.
Like I said, it's going to be different this time.