Tim Pawlenty: So Right, Something Is Wrong

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Walter Shapiro, writing in The New Republic, gets at the center of the Tim Pawlenty zeitgeist with a new profile, a piece that not only features the phrase “spurning dentistry” and tours the candidate’s childhood neighborhood, but also compares a portion of his gubernatorial career to smoking too much pot in college. The core of the Shapiro diagnosis, which is hard to deny for anyone who has watched Pawlenty in action, is this:

And yet something intangible still seems to be missing: Pawlenty comes across as lacking a sharply defined personality. People who know him bristle at the notion of a charisma deficit, although they are maddeningly short on specifics. “I think that he has sometimes been misrepresented as less than scintillatingly interesting,” says Anderson, his pastor. “He is actually a very interesting person.” Sviggum makes a similar point: “He’s been branded by the national press as bland. If you know Tim Pawlenty, that’s just wrong. He’s a jokester, a prankster.” When I asked Sviggum for an example or an anecdote, he replied with frustration audible in his voice, “I’m not coming up with anything right now.”

Part of Pawlenty’s dilemma may be that his type-A tendencies make him appear contrived as a campaigner. There is something overly cautious, overly thought-out about the way he presents himself. Every time Pawlenty delivers an attack line, you can picture the staff meetings that led up to it.

I mark it down as one of the best magazine pieces so far this cycle. Read it here.