The Slatest

Don’t Cry for Tim Pawlenty

Lobbyist Tim Pawlenty in 2016.
Lobbyist Tim Pawlenty in 2016. Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

After decisively losing his comeback bid for Minnesota governor to a little-known county commissioner in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Tim Pawlenty told a reporter for the Minnesota Star-Tribune that he no longer had a place in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

“The Republican Party has shifted,” the former two-term governor and 2012 presidential candidate said. “It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.” When asked whether this was the end of his political career, Pawlenty stated the obvious: “The answer is yes.”

Pawlenty suffered, in part, by a record of treatment toward Trump that was less-than-100-percent reflexively glorifying. Pawlenty, like some other establishment politicians this cycle, was haunted in the primary by his 2016 disavowal of candidate Trump. Following the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, Pawlenty declared Trump “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States” while withdrawing his support.”

When he decided to re-enter electoral politics and the flattery contest that is a 2018 Republican primary, though, he admitted that he voted for that very unsound, uninformed, unhinged, and unfit candidate.

“I support most of what he’s doing, nearly all of what he’s doing on a policy level,” Pawlenty said in April. “I just didn’t approve of some of his comments and language and behavior.”

The denial when denial was convenient, followed by measured support when measured support was convenient, set up the final act: A closing campaign ad from his opponent, county commissioner Jeff Johnson, titled “Finger in the wind.”

Pawlenty’s defeat could lead to another round of despairing punditry about the sad state of affairs in which a decent, experienced reformer like Pawlenty is toast in Trump’s Republican Party, with the candidate himself among the pundits pushing this idea. And while it’s not great that candidates who kept their mouths shut after the Access Hollywood tape appear to be the only ones who can survive competitive Republican primaries, it is great that Tim Pawlenty is finished.

Following the insta-collapse of his spark-free presidential campaign in 2011, Pawlenty took a lucrative gig as president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Wall Street lobbying group. It was quite a turn from the guy who made his name based on appeals to “Sam’s Club Republicans.” How did he fight for workin’ moms and pops there? As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney writes, “one of Pawlenty’s reforms at the FSR was kicking out the smaller members and becoming more exclusively a lobby of financial giants.” Wholesome.

There’s something especially grating among these “common sense” ex-politicians who sell out magnificently and then expect to be welcomed as heroes into their second tour of duty. Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh lost a challenge for his old seat in 2016, despite being a hot-shot Democratic recruit, when his opponent just sort of pointed at him and said the obvious. Pawlenty was rightly called out for opportunism in his posture toward Trump and for being a literal big bank lobbyist. A vote against Tim Pawlenty wouldn’t seem like a very difficult decision, even if he’s pleasant and doesn’t say gross things all the time.