Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Tim Pawlenty's endorsement of Mitt Romney makes no sense—unless you're Tim Pawlenty.
It makes no sense because "Obamneycare" was Pawlenty's favorite club to wield during his campaign. The weakest part of Mitt Romney's candidacy is the health care overhaul he instituted while Governor of Massachusetts; it resembles that national plan put forth by President Obama that was passed in 2010. In televised debates and on Twitter, the former Minnesota Governor hammered Romney repeatedly for the similarities, saying his reform was not "the right way."
So Pawlenty's endorsing him now...why? Has he seen the political light? Making his announcement on Fox & Friends this morning, Pawlenty said, "Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing Obamacare." Perhaps whatever concerns Pawlenty had about Romney's health care designs have evaporated since stepping out of the race. It's like campaigning turns you into some kind of jerk who says things about other people and their ideas that you don't really mean or know anything about.
Or the endorsement could be a lesser-of-two-evils thing now that Rick Perry is in the race.
Pawlenty half-heartedly courted the Tea Party for support earlier this year, attending events in Boston, New Hampshire and elsewhere. But not even Pawlenty was fooled into thinking he would be the Tea Party guy, not with Michele Bachmann in the race.
Then along comes Rick Perry: handsome, very electable, and liked by the Tea Party while still posing a threat to Romney. Perry effectively eclipsed Michele Bachmann's campaign—Can we talk about the genius of announcing your candidacy right after Bachmann wins the Ames Straw Poll? Sails, kiss the wind goodbye—then made it look like a two-man race very quickly, one that would pit the establishment against insurgents within the party. Will the next Republican nominee be a Tea Partier, or won't they?
Which is to say, maybe Pawlenty is siding with the establishment symbolically by throwing whatever weight he has behind Romney. Chris Cillizza notices this over at The Fix:
Pawlenty was competing directly with Romney for establishment donors and activists; Romney will now have a strengthened hand to unify that bloc of votes behind his candidacy. (It’s a larger debate whether being the establishment candidate is a good or bad thing for Romney.)
Somewhere along the way, Pawlenty realized he wasn't a Tea Party candidate. Then he realized he wasn't a candidate, period, and went with the establishment guy who had the best shot of winning against the Tea Party guy.
There's another thing to consider: Pawlenty the presidential hopeful hated Mitt Romney, but Pawlenty the unemployed guy with six figures of campaign debt gushes over him. Hmm.
Suddenly Pawlenty is the national co-chair of Romney's campaign, and reports have surfaced that Mitt is going to help Tim make all that nasty debt disappear.
It's extremely cynical to think that Pawlenty would use all that oxygen to bash Romney in hopes of getting one job, then use a lot more oxygen taking it all back so he could get another within Romney's campaign. But that might be what's happened here. And it makes a lot of sense for Tim Pawlenty, who would love to have a job in the next president's administration, too.
What does Mitt get out of the deal? Depends on who you ask. In Politico's Arena, MSNBC contributor Krystal Ball writes, "Impactful endorsements either deliver supporters or cash. Gov. Pawlenty is not in a position to deliver much of either."
Meanwhile, Chris Cillizza notes the unseen benefits of networking, pointing out that in certain states where Pawlenty was especially active, "it does provide some level of additional access into corridors of power, organization and money."
Ultiamtely, Pawlenty's endorsement is unlikely to change any voters' minds. But it can't hurt the Romney team. And it's especially nice to have gotten this morning, since Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal just endorsed Rick Perry this afternoon.
So it begins.