In a typically fine column, Josh Green notes that Tim Pawlenty’s Tea Party speech this past Friday didn’t get nearly the attention of speeches in recent days by Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. Josh is right that the national media barely pays attention to T-Paw, in part because he barely makes a mark in national polls, and in part because he’s not nearly as theatrical as some of the people competing for the same spotlight:
In theory, the successful two-term Republican governor of Minnesota should be a political star, and he nearly was one — but John McCain passed him over and chose Palin for his running mate in 2008. Since then, theory has succumbed to prosaic reality: Pawlenty is one of several accomplished, credentialed Republicans having a much harder time breaking through than they ever would have imagined. As much as anyone, he’s the victim of the conservative electorate’s sharp turn to the right and its appetite for bombast over competence and professionalism. They’re not big on bombast in Minnesota.
But national media and national polls matter less for someone like Pawlenty right now than the long and slow process of climbing the ladder in Iowa. A win there would slingshot Pawlenty into New Hampshire and beyond, with a frenzy of media attention that would make up for a low-key start. And although Iowa’s caucus goers are quite conservative, it’s not clear whether bombast is the key to winning over caucus-goers in a state where close-up retail politics, an area in which Pawlenty is said to excel, is essential. It may be that Pawlenty never gets traction. But national polls and cable coverage aren’t the best metric of his success. Remember the way Hillary Clinton had a huge lead over Barack Obama in the national polls–until Obama won Iowa, when suddenly she didn’t. (And remember how John Edwards could barely muscle his way into the Hillary-Obama narrative, yet finished second in Iowa and had a real crack at winning there.) When grading Pawlenty in the months to come, watch Iowa.