Tim Pawlenty has a problem. He thinks, not unreasonably, that his sound but unspectacular stewardship of Minnesota shows that he has the right stuff to be POTUS in an age of austerity. Yet it’s his misfortune to be competing for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination just when it’s brimming with populist energy. Worse, he has to compete for the attention of the Republican base against a roster of charismatic personalities (like Sarah Palin, Marco Rubio, Michele Bachmann and Chris Christie) adept at surfing the populist wave.
There were times when the Republican Party thirsted for someone like Pawlenty. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of having charisma. But his record as a two-term Governor of Texas who'd managed to be both reliably conservative and genially bipartisan was just the ticket in 2000 for a party trying to pick up the broken china that Newt Gingrich left behind. Now, however, the Republican nomination seems more likely to go to someone who can keep the blood pumping through the Tea Partiers' veins.
So what’s a mild-mannered Republican with designs on the White House to do? Cast himself in a summer blockbuster in which an unassuming Midwestern governor retires discreetly into a phone booth, only to emerge in electric-blue tights, a red cape and “AE” (for American Exceptionalism) emblazoned on his bulging chest. I dare to you to watch without giggling: