It was never realistic to think that Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the race this morning, had a chance to win the Republican nomination. It wasn’t because he was insufficiently ideological for the frothing-at-the-mouth radicals who increasingly dominate Republican primaries; he was more than willing to debase himself in order to say or do whatever the rightwing fringe wanted to hear. Pawlenty just wasn’t a good candidate; he was boring, lacked national political experience or any professional, government, intellectual or personal background that provided him with special abilities or insights or made him compelling to others, he wasn’t surrounded by a particularly strong political team, and there was nothing in his political history–underwhelming wins of 44% and 46% in his two gubernatorial campaigns–that suggested he could ever generate significant electoral support.
But Pawlenty did get elected to two terms as Minnesota’s governor. I met my wife when we both lived in Minnesota. She lived there for most of Pawlenty’s second term, and when I told her this morning that Pawlenty had dropped out she made a great point: Pawlenty wanted so badly to be on a national ticket that he put sucking up to the right wing over doing what was best for the state, and since it didn’t keep him from dropping out before a single vote was cast, the harm he caused Minnesota was cruel, selfish and wasted.
As governor, Pawlenty avoided dealing with long-term budget problems, using one-time fixes like using revenues from the tobacco settlement and stimulus funds and witholding payments to local school districts and pushing them to the year after he left office. Only Alaska used one-time fixes for a greater share of its budget in 2010, but Alaska drew from reserves from cash reserves, while Pawlenty simply refused to agree to any tax increases on anyone, especially the wealthy, and stuck the problem with his successor, Democrat Mark Dayton, who now has to deal with a recalcitrant Republican legislature that, pursuing the same intransigence modeled for them by Pawlenty, pushed Minnesota in to its second government shutdown in six years.
It’s satisfying to see someone as craven as Pawlenty not be rewarded for debasing himself in an attempt to please the ultras who will likely decide the GOP nomination. It’s too bad that the costs of his debasement and cynical fealty to unyielding dogma, which achieved nothing for him, are being paid by the citizens of Minnesota. Pawlenty’s like the arsonist-for-hire who didn’t get paid for the crime. It’s satisfying that the wasn’t rewarded. But there’s still the tragedy of someone’s property smoldering in a pile of ashes, the result of cynicism and selfishness.