Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty gave last night’s keynote speech to the gathered conservative activists at Western CPAC, and delivered a lengthy, policy-rich speech that highlighted his strengths on experience and ideas — and his current shortcomings as a national campaigner. I’ve highlighted a three-minute cut from a 36-minute speech that caught Pawlenty at his best in terms of leading and encouraging grass-roots outreach to centrists and independents while maintaining and defending core conservative values. By explaining what conservative ideals mean in real-world applications, Pawlenty argued, we find that many more people support those values than we expect:
Governor Pawlenty has a middle-class authenticity that serves him well in connecting with people on a personal basis, and a grasp of policy that makes him a formidable presence for television. However, if Pawlenty expects to inspire the kind of movement he needs to make a serious run at the presidency, he needs to find a way to generate energy and enthusiasm in these kinds of grass-roots settings. It’s not even really the speech itself, which would read as exceptionally good on paper, or his delivery, which is natural and engaging. It was probably too long by a considerable amount for this kind of event, which really needs exhortation and inspiration more than reflection and policy.
Pawlenty has a handicap in that Minnesota mostly rewards politicians who avoid that kind of passion on the stump. Al Franken deliberately made himself boring to build credibility as a serious candidate, and Amy Klobuchar came by in naturally. Even Jesse Ventura, the obvious exception to this rule, ran more as a “none of the above” candidate in 1998. If Pawlenty wants to move to the top tier of potential presidential candidates in the next electoral cycle or two, then he needs to find his internal fire and learn to spread it better.