Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Is Pawlenty RC, or Generic?


Tim Pawlenty got a little good news by proxy yesterday: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of THAT Huckabee, is heading up his Ames straw poll efforts. That's of course NOT a Mike endorsement, but Huckabee pere's distaste for nominal frontrunner Mitt Romney is well known. Assume for the sake of argument that the support of the daughter implies the support of the father. Here's how I see this hand playing out:

This cycle the GOP nominating contest is about Mitt vs. Not Mitt. Sorry, Jon Huntsman: the Iowa winner always trumps the Screw Iowa candidate and thus gets to be the Not Mitt. But just being Not Mitt isn't enough. If that were true, the current trajectory pointing toward a Michele Bachmann win would be acceptable. No, Mike Huckabee wants the nominee to be an electable Not Mitt. I'm not convinced T-Paw is electable, but he is the only can of cola on the shelf that's not past the sell by date (Gingrich, Santorum) or otherwise unfit for human consumption (everyone else).

Blogger-made-good Nate Silver said last weekend that Tim Pawlenty is the RC Cola of the presidential race: "Instead of being the consensus choice, he finds himself with very little breathing room. Voters deciding between Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Perry tend to prefer Mr. Perry, those deciding between Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Romney tend to prefer Mr. Romney, and so forth.

(Tangent: One of the compromises a blogger made good has to make is the New York Times stylebook that Mr.'s and Ms.'s everyone. Most famously, the NYT referred to the singer of "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights" as "Mr. Loaf." We now return to our block quote already in progress.)

Put differently, Mr. Pawlenty is not intrinsically well differentiated from his opponents. A lot of voters might find him acceptable — but the types of voters who find him acceptable will also tend to find a lot of other candidates acceptable."

Silver has a good point but the wrong analogy. I think T-Paw is more like the off-brand Faygo or Doctor Thunder. The kind Mom swears are just as good for half the price, but taste funny in a way you can't describe.

If you look at the label, all the right ingredients are there: a tasty mix of social and fiscal conservativism in a blue state bottle. But Mom was looking at the coupons instead of the label and got decaf by mistake, and after one glass you left the cap off the bottle so it went flat. You keep hoping Mom will go to the store and get something else like that Perry Pop or Christie Cola (Now With Extra High Fructose Corn Syrup!) But that two liter of Pawlenty Pop just keeps staring at you every time you open the fridge.

And unfortunately for Pawlenty, he's on the market at a time when caucus shoppers are looking for Jolt Cola. Will Pawlenty find his fizz in time for Ames? Or will he be the biggest marketing flop since Decaf Mountain Dew? (You KNOW somebody got fired for that one.)

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