Pawlenty should have challenged Romney as a more authentic alternative. If you look back at 2008, Romney was beaten by Mike Huckabee and John McCain. Like them or hate them, Huckabee and McCain are two politicians that connect with people on a gut level. Pawlenty has a compelling personal life story and has been can be perfectly likable in person. Were he to have simply been himself, he would have had a better chance to bond with voters on a personal level. And if you do that, they’re more forgiving when you explain various “clunkers” in your record, as Pawlenty liked to put it. Unfortunately, Pawlenty’s need to make up for his various deviations from conservatism resulted in a consultant-driven, overly scripted campaign. That’s the exact opposite of what he needed to do if he was going to differentiate himself. Nobody is going to out robot Mitt Romney.
With that said, Pawlenty’s decision to get out now rather than drag it out till the end was an honorable one, and likely preserves the possibility that he may reemerge a year from now as a vice presidential pick. Looking ahead, it seems that he’d be a potentially solid pick for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, should he win the nomination, given that Pawlenty would bring regional diversity to the ticket, as well as executive experience and record that’s conservative enough without turning off a general electorate. And given Perry’s out-sized Texas persona, he could benefit from somebody plain vanilla in the number two spot.