For the duration of his presidential campaign, Gov. Tim Pawlenty struggled to inspire any kind of enthusiasm in the electorate. On the debate stage, he struggled to command the respect and awe of either his fellow candidates or the crowd. Now, it looks like his decision to withdraw his presidential bid did what his campaign never could. It tapped into a results-and-record-based respect for the guy who wanted nothing more than to be evaluated on his ideas and experience rather than his image (which, despite his best efforts, always remained dull). In fact, a few folks on Twitter just said it outright: Pawlenty’s decision to withdraw — principled and pragmatic as it was — reminded them of why he would actually have made a good president.

It might also have helped Pawlenty to build momentum if voters could only have known just how highly his competitors thought of him. Consider:

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain tweeted that Pawlenty was “one of the kindest” of his Republican opponents for the 2012 presidential nomination while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said in a statement that Pawlenty was “someone of tremendous character.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the focus of many of Pawlenty’s attacks, praised the ex-governor of Minnesota for running “an honorable campaign.”

“I admire his accomplishments as a two-term governor with a record of results for his state,” Romney went on in a statement. “I consider him a friend, and I know he has a bright future ahead of him as a leader of the Republican Party.”

Even Michele Bachmann, Pawlenty’s rival and the ostensible reason he exited so early, had kind things to say. Pawlenty “served the people of Minnesota and our country well. Our party and our country are better as a result of his service and commitment,” she said.

But, of course, competitors on the campaign trail are far more in the business of trading barbs than exchanging compliments.

Now, all discussion turns to whether Pawlenty would accept if tapped for the vice presidential nomination. He has said he’s intentionally not vying for the veep position, but, as Ed tweeted yesterday, nobody considers it until asked. He’d be a worthy choice for a variety of reasons — not of Washington, which suits the nation’s present populist mood; reelected in a blue state in 2006, when Republicans lost majorly; prepared for the presidency, should the worst happen, etc., etc., etc.

Update I: Meant to include this in the post in the first place — but the Minnesota GOP chair has a different idea than VP for Pawlenty.Tony Sutton wants the former governor to run for Senate.

Update II: Rick Perry loves Pawlenty, too. “He is one of my favorite governors out there, not only because of what a Republican governor did in a pretty blue state, but also in a personal way. He is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever been around in my life and I just love him,” Perry said, adding that they often “joke and poke each other.”

Tags: Tim Pawlenty