Pawlenty Launches Attack Ad, Steps On Rake

In a dishonest attack ad against Johnson, Pawlenty shows not only worry about the primary but who he really is

Above it all donor-class candidate and failed former governor Tim Pawlenty this week launched an attack ad on Republican endorsed Jeff Johnson. The thirty second spot was a melange of half truths and outright lies such that Johnson declared “If someone from my campaign came to me with an ad as dishonest as Tim Pawlenty’s, I’d fire them.” On Planet Pawlenty, that person is running his campaign. The fish rots from the head, however.

A number of fanciful, false claims were made about Johnson in the brief, badly made, painfully dated ad. AWOL Tim accused Johnson of being a “tax and spend” politician. How did such a claim survive a meeting, let alone make it into the ad? The second claim, which Johnson termed “a blatant lie,” was that he proposed a “massive tax hike.” The third claim was that Johnson “supported Governor Dayton’s plan to expand the state sales tax to auto repairs, babysitting and more.” Johnson responded that “the principle of expanding the sales tax base and lowering rates was a good one, but that Dayton took it too far and I did not support his plan.”

For those of you keeping score at home, the Vision Caster was zero for three. The fourth bogus claim in this political malpractice of an ad was “Johnson supported spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to support Obamacare.” Johnson’s response, to paraphrase, was “Huh?” Johnson himself said flatly and succinctly “I’ve never supported Obamacare.” Unlike Pawlenty’s hatchet job of an attack ad, Johnson’s statement had the added virtue of being true. He put out a detailed response demolishing each of Pawlenty’s pathetic, knowingly false claims.

Pawlenty refused, on the very day his attack aired, to come on WCCO radio when Blois Olson was hosting and discuss the gubernatorial race. Apparently this was because Jeff Johnson did accept the invitation. Even in his badly run campaign, Pawlenty managed to be authentically Minnesotan, authentically passive-aggressive. He’ll hide behind a poorly thought out, poorly produced attack ad but won’t show up in person to make the case against the very subject of that ad. This isn’t a “Rose Garden” strategy, it’s hiding in the White House basement while others throw below-the-belt punches on behalf of your purported merit. What could go wrong?

Backlash was immediate and fierce. I myself said as much on Twitter but what caught my attention was Joey Davis’ tweet “That’s got backlash written all over it.” Davis is the Executive Director of A Better Minnesota and so knows something about effective media or its opposite. How did there not exist a single person on Planet Pawlenty who could see the obvious same? Or is what his former lieutenant governor Carol Molnau said of Pawlenty even truer than we thought? That he surrounds himself with yes people and so ideas that should die a quiet death instead are greenlighted?

Pawlenty’s presence on Twitter is deeply unimpressive. Tweets don’t win campaigns but they shape–or kill–narratives and can be an important barometer of a race. This is not nothing. The few retweets he gets are always by the usual suspects, those directly or indirectly in his employ. The replies are brutal, the Republican ones more so than the Democrat.

Facebook would appear no better, although to be fair to Pawlenty, my engagement there consists mostly of posting memes from Twitter and running away. When I do take the time to read comments to posts concerning him, though, the results would give a better campaign pause.

But we don’t have a better Pawlenty campaign: the manifest incompetence, the unbelievable tone deafness, the sheer detachedness currently exhibited in the primary is what we’ll get in the general if he’s our nominee. Pawlenty will lose at this rate while at the same time assuring Republican rubes that he’s their salvation. If he does lose, he’ll decamp elsewhere, his untalented inner circle will continue to grift as lobbyists or worse and Minnesota will begin the descent to its final decline. Hey, at least the right people made money during this failed campaign, which is all the Minnesota Republican swamp has ever cared about. The last thing it cares about is you.

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Where is the Minnesota Republican Party in all of this? Will it be capable of the bare minimum of mailing out sample ballots statewide? Is Jennifer Carnahan learning the hard way what it means when Pawlenty tells the donor class not to donate to anything other than his campaign? Will she continue her pathetic, shameless slander against all Republicans by calling him bigoted and racist for having done so? What happened to her legendary fundraising prowess?

Asking the most recent past chair of the party to come back to help her, which she did this week, isn’t exactly a sign of strength or competence.

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Pawlenty’s attack ad was an occasion to which Jeff Johnson rose and it was gratifying to see. I’ve said for some time that this cycle has shown us an improved and stronger Johnson and it all came together for him last Friday.

Besides taking a battery of questions from Blois Olson in the morning, Johnson held a press conference in the afternoon where he called for a moratorium on forced refugee migration into Minnesota. Alpha News carried the event live and it’s posted on Facebook now.

Watching it, I was struck by how lazy our media are, how slovenly and base they are in their thinking. One press moron actually asked Johnson if he’d talked to his pastor about his call for a refugee moratorium. What? These people aren’t just badly educated, they’re affirmatively not bright. They’re not our betters, they’re our manifest lessers. Fortunately the pain that media feel in the Age of Trump is what the kids would call my superpower.

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Pawlenty went from cold to hot, from ignoring Johnson to attacking him. This whiplash led to backlash. In doing so, he undercut one of his supporters favorite arguments: people don’t know who Jeff Johnson is. Except they do, especially now given the attention and backlash to Pawlenty’s foolish ad.

I get the sense that this is Brian McClung’s doing, who is turning out to be the MNGOPe’s straight Robby Mook. He took to Twitter as soon as it became clear that the ad was having the opposite of its intended effect. He badgered Brian Baskt of MPR, Patrick Cooligan of the Star Tribune and WCCO television’s Pat Kessler (he blocked me on Twitter after I called him “our Ted Baxter” but it was worth it), insisting it was their duty to help him in pointing out an obscure, inconsequential vote of Johnson’s from 2009 and which, by the time he had tweeted, Johnson had successfully refuted. This is the thin gruel by which Pawlenty is going to win the primary?

The abiding problem, it seems to me, is that Pawlenty has never grappled with the lack of nostalgia for him among the Republican base. Then again, by the shopworn and outdated metrics his consultants may be presenting him, he may not be aware of it.

Something tells me that after last week, he is now.

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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

John Gilmore

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