Jonathan Chait

If Staying in the Republican Primary Race Were Easy, Everybody Around The World Would Stay in the Republican Primary Race

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[Guest post by Nathan Pippenger]

Turns out Jon was right about being wrong: He “massively overestimated” Tim Pawlenty, whose campaign ended with a whimper after a third-place finish at the Iowa Straw Poll. Pawlenty always struck me as he did Chait: the candidate who could appeal to both the base and the elites. His candidacy was the next-best thing to voting in an alternate universe where Mitt Romney never supported universal healthcare.

But that reasoning never caught onor at least it didn’t among the few thousand Iowans who tanked Pawlenty’s campaign over the weekend. It’s a testament to the media-presidential campaign complex’s ability to utterly upend reality that a molecular portion of Iowa’s Republican voters, who often are more-or-less bribed to attend this ridiculous event, can lend credence to no-shot campaigns (Ron Paul finished second), while torpedoing credible candidates. TNR’s Walter Shapiro has thoroughly documented just how damaging the straw poll can be to the GOP’s national prospectsas he concludes, it’s an “ersatz election,” “as scientific as sorcery,” and “one of the most insidious events in politics.”

For all these reasons, then, Pawlenty’s early exit from the race is a little confounding. (My colleague Simon van Zuylen-Wood speculates, probably correctly, that he’s out of money. Losing the Straw Poll did cost Pawlenty’s campaign about a million dollars.) But it’s also amusing when you recall one of the early ads of Pawlenty’s campaign: a baffling, fascinating 86 seconds of melodramatic music and B-roll called “Courage to Stand.” The ad contains footage of sunrises over the National Mall; the fall of the Berlin Wall; clouds speeding over the Statue of Liberty; serious-looking, suit-wearing men gazing into the distance; small children staring meaningfully into the camera; a formation of fighter jets; and more. With only the most tenuous of a thematic connection among these otherwise-random images, it’s the political equivalent of Chris Dane Owens’s “Shine on Me” music video (also a YouTube sensation). Watch for yourself:

Throughout the ad, Pawlenty compares the work of his campaign to Valley Forge, the moon landing, and the settling of the Western frontier. The ad repeats a rhetorical formula: If X were easy, everybody around the world would be X. “If prosperity were easy, everybody around the world would be prosperous! If freedom were easy, everybody around the world would be free! If security were easy, everybody around the world would be secure!” Pawlenty finishes the list with a sharp declaration: “They are not!” “None of this is gonna be easy,” he tells a transfixed audience. “It takes an extraordinary effort. It takes extraordinary commitment!” It’s odd to hear from someone who quit after getting third place at an unrepresentative poll held six months before the first primary votes are scheduled to be cast. Courage to Stand is one thing. I guess it takes more courage to run. 

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