John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Plenty on Pawlenty

Posted on May 23, 2011
With Mitch Daniels out of the race, Republican establishment operatives are now trying to figure out which candidate they are going to support; either financially, emotionally or with blood, sweat and tears.

Presumably, Mitt Romney won’t get much of that support. As the front-runner, Romney already has his team in place, and the undecideds out there are looking to find who the anti-Romney will be.

With Huckabee and Daniels averring, and with Newt collapsing, the field for establishment Republicans has become a whole lot smaller. They won’t be supporting Ron Paul, who is anathema to the typical Republican, nor will they support Herman Cain, who is a Tea Party favorite but is not seen as electable.

That leaves a binary choice between Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty. Huntsman is a favorite of the McCain wing of the party, a distinct group that finally won the right to represent the GOP in the last election.

Pawlenty thus far has tried to position himself as the last man standing, and by all accounts this strategy has worked pretty well. He has slowly but steadily built up a good team of operatives, and he hasn’t done anything to embarrass himself, which is an incredible asset in this campaign.

Pawlenty thus far hasn’t excited me. He is fairly drab in his public appearances. His messaging seems to be poll-tested but not particularly road-tested. He is sharply critical of Obama, but hasn’t offered anything interesting on the policy front. He had a good track record as governor, but I bet you not more than 1% of the American people know or care about that.

It seems to me that T-Paw (as his campaign staff calls him, a nickname I find to be undignified and demeaning) has a pretty powerful narrative if he chooses to seize it.

Now that Huckabee is gone, Pawlenty is truly the only middle-class contender out there. Both Romney and Huntsman hire middle-class workers on occasion, but they are no more middle class than Barack Obama, who is the elite’s elite.

The middle class is the key to this election. They are being squeezed at home because of stagnant wages and high gas prices. Their kids are being saddled by huge college loans, if they are lucky enough to get in to their state school. Their parents are struggling with high medical costs. Their home values are not rebounding, and while it is nice that the stock market has made a comeback, for many middle class families, they had to drain their 401k’s to pay for essentials.

These folks are resentful of the special privileges other people get that they don’t. They are fearful that the American dream is out of reach for them. They are stressed that their kids aren’t getting much of an education at school, and they worry that they will never be able to retire.

It seems to me that Pawlenty can feel the pain of these folks and then come up with a plan to give them hope. But that plan has to be specific, not just a bunch of platitudes and attacks on President Obama.

So far, Mr. Pawlenty has promised to be the candidate to tell the American people the truth. I don’t think that is what the voters want to hear. They already know the truth and they certainly aren’t going to suddenly put their trust in a politician that they have never heard of before.

No, what the voters want is a plan, a plan to make their lives better and to give them some hope in the future. If Pawlenty can do that, then he will get the votes of a lot of people who haven’t thrown in with anybody yet.