Given that Tim Pawlenty never managed to rise above low single digits in the polls, it’s safe to say he didn’t disappoint too many people when he unceremoniously dropped out of the presidential race last weekend. And while his former foes are now scrambling to appear gracious as they predict a bright future for the ex-governor, chances are his days in the national spotlight are over.
But that doesn’t mean Pawlenty’s absence won’t be felt in the campaign. When it comes to the presidential horse race, even the slowest stallions leave behind fond memories when they’re led out to pasture. So, in deference to the ex-candidate who embodied (to his detriment) “Minnesota nice,” we offer a campaign eulogy of sorts: the five things we’ll miss most about T-Paw.
1. The adrenaline-pumping campaign commercials
For a guy who utterly failed to beat the rap that he was too boring to be president, Pawlenty offered campaign commercials that showed enough gravitas to compete with even the most epic, asteroid-heading-for-earth movie trailer. Produced by 22-year-old Canadian filmmaker Lucas Baiano, the preposterously polished ads had a fairly consistent formula: shaky-camera cut-away shots of the candidate, stirring rhetoric recorded over an inspirational, horn-heavy soundtrack, and patriotic B-roll interspersed throughout (including, but not limited to, jets flying overhead, astronauts landing on the moon, and carefree children frolicking on the beach). One ad even included a crowd chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The cynics laughed, but we dare you to watch the "Courage to Stand" video without getting chills.
2. The awkward Lady Gaga references
Toward the end of his campaign, Pawlenty suddenly became very eager to talk about meat-dress-wearing pop sensation Lady Gaga. Most curiously, he went out of his way in one interview to ask a trio of gossip bloggers what their favorite Gaga song was. After they muttered their responses, Pawlenty opined that “in terms of the beat, I like ‘Bad Romance’ ” and that “even though she’s unusual, ‘Born This Way’ has some appeal.” As if that weren’t strange enough, the candidate went on to describe his favorite part of the Gaga HBO special (FYI, it was her a capella performance of “Born This Way”), and then turned the whole thing into a sort of maxim on Republican media consumption: “If you had to limit your artistic choices to just conservatives, we wouldn’t have a lot of choices.” With Pawlenty out of the 2012 mix, who will we turn to for hard-to-watch pop-culture pandering? (Mitt, we’re looking at you …)
3. The highly public spousal flirtation
While the rest of the field introduced their spouses in predictable and vaguely patronizing ways (“my lovely wife,” “my good wife,” et al.), Pawlenty liked to cut to the chase: “I’m very thankful for my red-hot, smoking wife,” he told a crowd of Iowans last year, introducing a joke he would employ frequently on the campaign trail. Sometimes he would even add, “Now if only I could get her to have sex with me, I’d really have it made.” Without context, the line was slightly startling, calling to mind the exhibitionism and quasi carnality of Al and Tipper Gore’s makeout session on stage at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. But it all made more sense—and became a tad less titillating—when Pawlenty clarified that he was simply quoting the Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy Talladega Nights.
4. The promise of a Minnesota slugfest
It’s not often that the North Star state sees two of its most prominent politicians sparring on national TV. But sparks began to fly last weekend at the Iowa debate when Pawlenty attacked Rep. Michele Bachmann more aggressively than ever before, saying “her record of accomplishments and results is nonexistent.” With the two candidates battling for the same swath of evangelical primary voters, 2012 was bound to produce some serious intra-Minnesota strife, forcing state Republicans to pick sides as their favorite son and daughter duked it out. Alas, the Montague-and-Capulet drama was not to be. One Minnesota politico who may be especially disappointed by Pawlenty’s exit from the race is Arne Carlson. A former Republican governor of the state, Carlson has made a career of Pawlenty-bashing in recent months, attacking the candidate’s fiscal record with an almost evangelical fervor. He even pledged that he would personally visit Iowa and New Hampshire to preach his anti-Pawlenty message. What will he do now with that round-trip ticket to Des Moines?
5. The fake Southern accent
At some point, Pawlenty apparently decided that his St. Paul accent wasn’t quite resonating in all the right time zones. So he adopted a Southern drawl. People back home noticed the change after local broadcasts of a speech in Iowa, and Minnesota Public Radio had its fun needling their former governor for his shameless attempt at folksiness. (Pawlenty, for his part, insists the accent was unintentional and that it was not “some sort of strategic decision.”) With Pawlenty out of national politics, we may never again hear the ex-candidate’s imitation of an Arkansas Rotarian. The consolation, of course, is that Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his candidacy the same day Pawlenty dropped out, so the campaign won’t be lacking in long, lazy vowels.