As Adam mentioned, on paper, Tim Pawlenty fit the profile of the perfect Republican presidential candidate: A blue-state governor with blue-collar roots, a conservative evangelical with potential appeal to the Tea Party and establishment wings of the GOP. (Was his staff really that savvy? I’ll have to take Adam’s word for it.) But Pawlenty had another defining characteristic that made him an absolutely ideal challenger to President Obama, a characteristic that’s worth mentioning, because all the remaining Republican candidates lack it.
Even with the economy sputtering and unemployment at 9%, Obama polls better than the big-name Republican candidates nationally and in battleground states. But he doesn’t do so well when pitted against a generic Republican. And that’s Pawlenty, the ultimate generic Republican.
Republicans want the 2012 election to be a referendum on the President. The Obama campaign wants it to be a choice between the president and an unpalatable alternative. That’s why Obama is hoping the Republicans nominate someone from Crazyville, whether it’s Rick Perry (an extremist who looks like a President out of central casting) or Michelle Bachmann (an extremist who looks like a stalker from the planet Zorb). I suspect Obama would have a different kind of field day with Mitt Romney, a non-extremist (although he sometimes plays one on TV) who looks like, as Mike Huckabee once said, the guy who laid you off, and sounds like a guy who would say anything to get elected.
Jon Huntsman would be a disaster for Obama, but it’s hard to see how an Obama appointee who thought the Obama stimulus was too small gets through a Republican primary. Otherwise, Obama’s worst nightmare—except maybe Marco Rubio—is a pleasant-looking but forgettable Obama critic with no charisma and no major skeletons. So far, Obama seems to have ducked the plausible dull Republicans – John Thune, Mitch Daniels (who isn’t actually dull but seems dull) and now Pawlenty.
It’s true, as Adam said, that Pawlenty never “ignited passion in Republican voters.” But next fall, the GOP nominee won’t need to do that. Obama will do that.