Nowhere Man: The Case Against Tim Pawlenty

Pawlenty doesn't appreciate how much politics have changed, which is why he mistakenly thinks he appeals to Minnesota voters.

Bad news was delivered last week by MPR when it reported that failed former Governor Tim Pawlenty would meet with donors and “supporters” to reassess running for governor. Pawlenty previously had played an unconvincing coy game, saying he was politically “retired” and not interested in running this cycle. Not even the dumbest Republicans in the nation believed him.

This bit of terminally depressing news was delivered on the same day the fundraising numbers for current Republican gubernatorial candidates were released. “Underwhelming” is my Goldilocks term for them: not too harsh, not too inaccurate. It has to be admitted, though, that the longer one studied those numbers, especially in comparison to the fundraising numbers on the DFL side of the aisle, the more troubled one became.

There are a number of reasons for these numbers but for now let’s just say that the big donors in Minnesota Republican politics are controlled or influenced by far too few people. Some say big donors don’t want to commit to a particular candidate before the endorsement but that’s demonstrably not the case with Democrats. Why the difference?

I cringed at those passing themselves off as politically sophisticated who noted that the low fundraising numbers afforded Pawlenty an opportunity to get into the race, as if that somehow wasn’t self evident. To be fair, it’s the sort of banality that gets you booked on “Almanac” or “At Issue.”

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Star Tribune amanuensis Patrick Coolican obediently delivered the spin from the local swamp creatures who see financial and political benefit from Pawlenty running:

“Pawlenty is still the last Republican to win a statewide race in Minnesota — in 2006 — and no one questions his ability to raise money after two terms as governor, a presidential run and years as a Wall Street lobbyist.

A GOP source said the plan is to gauge support and secure commitments from these donors to raise money quickly. Something on the order of $1 million would certainly convey seriousness. Doing so would make it very clear to the other Republican candidates what they’re up against and maybe persuade them to get out of the race.

Further pressure could be applied by the other candidates’ donors, who would make clear the spigot is being turned off, so candidates should consider bowing out.

All of this would leave a clear shot for Pawlenty.”

A clear shot at losing. Great.

Pawlenty is explicitly running as the Jeb! candidate: stale, yesterday’s man of no genuine accomplishment (Jeb had an admirable record, by contrast, when he was Florida’s governor) and intent on leveraging his money connections to win the race whether others drop out or not. Jeb! said he was willing to “lose the primary to win the general.” So it is with Wall Street Tim, as one labor activist on Twitter already dubbed him. It’s not alliterative but there’s time. “Plutocrat Pawlenty” is my quick attempt at it.

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Alliterative or not, Pawlenty embodies the worst of the political swamp: failed governor, failed presidential candidate, successful grifter at the trough of big banks and big business. Out of office, he immediately left for Manhattan to become president of the Financial Services Roundtable, which exists to make the forgotten men and women of America even more forgotten. It’s a Faustian, soul selling deal but someone with minimal talent and no soul has to make it.

I’ve previously written that should Pawlenty become governor again, he’d come with a pre-installed swamp. The locus of that swamp is MZA + Co: McClung, Zellers, Anderson, a local lobbying firm, because at bottom politics is only a gateway to good money. I’m hardly naive though: lobbying will always exist and should. Transparency is the key. I’ve said I’d like to work with Common Cause Minnesota to reform our lobbying laws, among the weakest in the nation. But I can only do so much, and frankly, there are still many places around the world where I want to smoke cigarettes & enjoy strong coffee. Life is short and death is real: requiescat in pace Sarah Janecek.

MZA is an equal opportunity, Uniparty if you will, shop. McClung frequently appears on the unwatchable “At Issue” with Sarah Walker or Katie Tinucci. Viewers aren’t told they’re all from the same influence peddling shop but from “opposite” parties. Media’s dishonesty here is matched by our politics.

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Speaker Golnik and the usual suspects in the House mafia are likely to get behind Pawlenty because they know their own. Count the out of touch, open borders Chamber of Commerce as a likely supporter, as well as the grossly overpaid ($700K) Charlie Weaver of the Minnesota Business Partnership. In a word, everyone with a vested interest in politics who can pay for it, except the average Minnesota voter whose real interests they increasingly don’t even pretend to represent. Add in Norm Coleman, Vin Weber and Jack & Annette Meeks and you have the Minnesota swamp equivalent of the Bohemian Grove.

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The path to the general election ballot, it seems to me, is far harder than the Pawlenty team thinks. His absence hasn’t made any hearts grow fonder, except for the grifters who have been grifting locally instead of in Manhattan.

He won last time with only 46% of the vote, hardly an indication of a gift for the common touch among Minnesotans. His policies have left Minnesota with the highest electricity rates in the upper Midwest. His presidential race put his lack of talent and substance on full display. His post governor years reveal his true nature and priorities: cashing out. Money making at the expense of all else is fine, mind you, until it is opportunistically downplayed in favor of the sheer artificiality that is Tim Pawlenty, professional candidate.

Michael Barone recently wrote “What I think we’re seeing is a reshaping of the character of the two parties, the emergence of Trump-Republican and anti-Trump-Democratic parties from the dried husks of the parties of former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”

Minnesota Republicans understand this if only imperfectly but they are starting. By contrast, so dated is Pawlenty that he could well run billboards with his picture on them asking “Miss me yet?” and think it a good idea because a consultant told him so.

His looming return–unmissed, unwanted and unloved–is a cheesy movie: The Swamp Strikes Back. Having gotten Trump and the political zeitgeist radically wrong, it’s no wonder that he misreads Minnesota Republicans. He seems unaware that the baggage he has accumulated in and out of office not only will prevent him from winning in November, it will prevent him being on the ballot altogether.

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In addition to Alpha News, John Gilmore is also a contributor to The Hill. He is the founder and executive director of Minnesota Media Monitor.™ He blogs at and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy. He can be reached at Wbua@nycunarjfza.pbz.

Photo credit: Saint Thomas University

John Gilmore

John Gilmore is an author, freelance writer & former opinion columnist for Alpha News. He blogs at & is @Shabbosgoy on Twitter