Jonathan Chait

Is Tim Pawlenty the Front-Runner?

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Ed Kilgore presents the case against Tim Pawlenty as the Republican front-runner. (I've previously argued that Pawlenty is the favorite.) Ed makes the right case, which is that Pawlenty might simply fade away and fail to catch any fire with the base:

These elites seem to be hoping that if they choose someone who appeals to all sides, and cuts a profile as close to“generic” GOP candidate as possible, they will have a winning hand next year. But are the conservative activists who actually dominate primary and caucus events really in the mood for a safe, unexciting choice? Or are Tea Partiers in the mood for a crusade, led by someone who can energize them as Palin was meant to do in 2008? Will a political movement that perceives itself as “taking the country back” from socialists and baby-killers really find its general in a man so unremarkable that he was described in a sympathetic home-state magazine profile as “The Cipher”?

I agree that this is the right way to think about the Pawlenty downside scenario: Not crazy enough to be mayor of crazytown.

But I still feel good about my Pawlenty pick. His ridiculous videos may have the Colbert audience laughing, but I see no evidence that conservatives are laughing. (Conservative elites may be chuckling to themselves, but all that matters to them is Pawlenty's usefulness as a nominee.) Furthermore, the candidates who do catch fire with the base -- like Michelle Bachmann -- are such damaged goods that the party elites will coalesce around whichever alternative stands the best chance of consolidating the non-crazy vote.

I'm not certain here. Since 2009, we've seen the rise of tactical radicalism as a force strong enough to overcome elite opposition in the GOP. This could finally be the presidential contest the elites lose. But I don't expect them to lose, and Pawlenty seems like their best bet, and a figure the base can get excited about.

 

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