Tim Pawlenty takes flak over GOP debate. Was his showing so tragic?
Tim Pawlenty declined to be the attack dog against front-runner Mitt Romney in Monday's GOP presidential debate. Critics assailed him, but there are risks to going negative so early in the race.
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But imagine if Pawlenty had gone negative, and been the only one to do so. Many voters still don’t know him, and if he had stuck out as the only negative candidate on stage toward a fellow contender, that might have set a sour impression in voters’ minds. Remember President Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”Skip to next paragraph
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“He was determined not to have an internal GOP fight, and keep the focus on Obama,” says former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, a co-chairman of the Pawlenty campaign. “I understand he took flak, but his motivation was right. If the Republicans had gotten into a food fight over Romney and health care, a lot of Republicans wouldn’t have liked that either.”
Pawlenty himself took to the airwaves Tuesday morning to defend himself.
“I think what you saw last night is a party that's united on the understanding that we need to get Barack Obama out of the White House,” Pawlenty said on the CBS “Early Show.” “He's had his chance, his policies aren't working.... There will be some differences amongst Republicans, as well. But last night the focus was on the president.”
Of course, Pawlenty is going to have to do something – and soon – to break out of the pack. And now that Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party leader and fellow Minnesotan, has jumped into the race, the heat is on. She could do well in neighboring Iowa, squelching Pawlenty’s hopes of using Iowa as a springboard.
In New Hampshire, some Republicans argue that Pawlenty could have engaged Romney on his health-care reform without coming across as overly negative.
“For Pawlenty, it was not a take charge, ‘I’m paying for this microphone’ moment that suggests strength,” says Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “It was a predictable question, something they could have and should have prepared for. Pawlenty easily could have made his critique of Romney’s health-care plan and done so without looking like it was an attack.”
Mr. Cullen adds: “He desperately needs to establish himself as the mainstream alternative to Romney and given an opportunity to do that last night, he failed.”
So when will Pawlenty make his move? Stay tuned.
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