It’s obviously a huge day for Pawlenty tomorrow. A third-place finish could send him home. How did he get in this fix? It all goes back to Obamaney Care–a cute line that someone must have come up with during some meeting that Pawlenty went out and said, although he wasn’t comfortable enough with the formulation to repeat it in Romney’s presence. That ruined his debate in New Hampshire, and I’m assuming hurt his fundraising. So he needed a boost and the Ames straw poll became even more important to him and the Bachmann surge even more threatening. Ordinarily, he could hope to ride out that surge–after all, there’s an awful lot of time until the actual caucus. Instead, Pawlenty has had to try affirmatively to stop it. That has cast him as the negative, attack dog candidate, perhaps irreparably harming what would seem to be his natural brand as the low-key, nose-to-the-grindstone, substantive Midwesterner. He’s has had to jump on every possible Bachmann problem (the headaches), take none-too-subtle swipes at her constantly, and engage in a desperate throw-down with her last night on stage. Needless to say, this is not where Pawlenty thought he’d be right now. I’m all in favor of political combat, but I wonder if this can work for him. Bachmann is vulnerable to the line of attack that Pawlenty has opened up against her … eventually. A few days before the caucus, caucus-goers might think twice about whether they want Bachmann to be the party’s general election candidate. But now? In the middle of August 2011? Maybe Pawlenty’s organization in Iowa sees him through tomorrow and he has sowed enough early doubts about Bachmann to make a difference. If so, he’s done what he has to do. If not, Obamaney Care will be remembered as the beginning of the end.
by Rich Lowry