On Monday Tim Pawlenty made it official–he is running for president. No surprise here. He has been preparing to do this for the last two years more or less. Yet how do his prospects look? Perhaps the best thing going for him is that the GOP field is weak and he has an opening. His momentum, if any, is as a result of a void in Republican support for a presidential candidate.
Pawlenty’s presidential announcement was poor. First think of the visuals. Television is visual and you want to avoid talking heads. Pawlenty chose the Iowa state capitol as a backdrop but when I viewed it all that was visible behind him were trees and grass. No capitol, no flags, no people. It looked like he was standing in the park, speaking to a small group, running for dog catcher. It did not look presidential, it looked more amateurish. There was no interesting visuals or spark to light up the talk. Contrast to Obama or a Bachmann–there would have been crowds around them on camera cheering. Here, the applause sounded like Tiger Woods sinking a shot for par 3.
Now the message and delivery. Pawlenty has been a candidate in search of a narrative or message ever since he commenced his presidential bid. He has sought to define himself as the ”Sam’s Club Republican,” as the tax cutter, and as a social conservative.
He now appears to want to be a prophet, telling the American public the truth. Pawlenty uttered “truth” 16 times, aiming to the be straight-talking Harry Truman of his generation, telling folks not what they want to hear but what they need to hear. At the same time he also sought to copy a well-trod path of running against Washington, D.C., using Obama “change” mantra from 08 which also worked successfully for the GOP in 10. “Truth” for Pawlenty” in 12 is his version of “Change.”
Yet the narrative will not work. Obama’s narrative was positive, forward, and self-defining. Pawlenty’s is not. It was dark and depressing. Pawlenty needed a speech that defined who he was and what America would look like under his presidency. The message was dark and pessimistic–one of cuts and sacrifice. It reminded me of Walter Mondale in 1984 saying he was going to tell the truth when running against Reagan. It did not work. It was also dark like Jimmy Carter’s July 15, 1979, “Crisis of American Character” speech, even if true, it was not inspiring.
Pawlenty lacks a rationale for why he wants to run for president, as evidenced by his Time magazine interview when asked why he wants the office he stated: "I don't know. I wish I had a good answer for you on that." Pawlenty lacks an elevator speech for his presidency, he lacks a clear narrative for running, and he lacks a definition for his campaign. That came out in his Des Moines declaration. He needed an announcement with fireworks but it did not occur. He should have began his declaration with his vision and self-definition and then moved on to the case against Obama. Yet he failed to do that, leading instead with a dark message and bland delivery that failed to give his campaign a jump start.
Finally, poor Pawlenty. Tornadoes obscured his message. What next? Bachmann again upstaging him?
Pawlenty’s big hope is that no other GOP takes fire and he slips in by default.
Right now, Pawlenty may get 7-10% in Iowa, limp through New Hampshire, and then die in South Carolina.