Throughout his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Tim Pawlenty positioned himself as the anti-Mitt Romney. In campaign ads and speeches, Pawlenty defined his campaign in opposition to Romney’s: Where Romney was once pro-choice, Pawlenty was always against abortion; where Romney pioneered the individual mandate for his Massachusetts, Pawlenty always stood against universal health care; and where Romney was the candidate of the Republican establishment, Pawlenty sought to represent the right-wing base.
Of course, none of this worked. With his two terms as governor of Minnesota and his blue-collar appeal, Pawlenty seemed like a great choice on paper, but in practice, he was lackluster and disappointing -- qualities exemplified during the second Republican presidential debate, when he walked back his attacks on Romney and shied away from a confrontation with the then-front-runner.
With all of that said, it comes as a big surprise to see that Tim Pawlenty has taken to National Review to endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, and president of the United States:
Mitt Romney is running for president, and I am proud to endorse him.
Alone among the contenders, he possesses the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe economic predicament. His abiding faith in our country’s exceptional historical position as a beacon of freedom will make him the most important leader in a world that depends upon a strong America to stay at peace.
It’s possible that Pawlenty had a change of heart since leaving the race, and now sees Romney as a qualified and conservative choice for the GOP nomination. But I doubt it. Instead of reading this as a vote of confidence for Romney, the best way to make sense of Pawlenty’s endorsement is to read it as a conservative statement against Rick Perry. Like all other Republicans, Pawlenty is most concerned with beating Barack Obama, and given his credentials with the right-wing base, an endorsement for Romney is a clear vote of disapproval for Perry.
Will this make a difference? At the moment, Republican voters are convinced that Perry is very electable, with 42 percent saying that he has the best chance of beating Obama next year. Whether or not that changes will depend on a lot more than what Tim Pawlenty thinks.