Tim Pawlenty attacked Mitt Romney's health care plan characterizing it as calling it "ObamaneyCare" during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday on the evening before the CNN Debate. However, when CNN debate moderator John King gave Tim Pawlenty to the opportunity call ObamaneyCare to Mitt Romney's face, he didn't have the guts to do it.
Here's the transcript of T-Paw's refusal to attack Mitt Romney:
JOHN KING: "You don't want to address why you called Gov. Romney's Obamneycare?"
TIM PAWLENTY: "I just cited President Obama's own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint."
KING: "Why is it not Obamneycare standing here with the governor right now?"
PAWLENTY: "President Obama is the person I quoted ... Using the term 'Obamneycare' was a reflection of the president's comments."
In the eyes of many Americans, Tim Pawlenty revealed himself to be a weak, gutless and cowardly candidate. He can talk tough and come up with a clever zinger during a television interview but he lacked a spine to actually engage Romney in a debate when given the opportunity to do so. Alex Castellanos, a consultant to the Republican party explained to Politico how bad that response looked for Tim Pawlenty:
“Debates are competitions – they are alpha dog battles,” explained longtime GOP ad man Alex Castellanos. “To win one, you have to create what I call an ‘MOS,’ a moment of strength. Tim Pawlenty had a chance to get in the ring tonight with the heavyweight champion and create such a moment. He refused to enter the ring. It was like LeBron refusing to take the big shot [Sunday] night.”
That is a mistake that will cost Tim Pawlenty. Its one of the biggest campaign debate flubs of all time.
Yet, some commentators say that T-Paw's refusal to take on MItt Romney won't hurt him with the voters because many of them either were not watching the debate last night or didn't care to watch since the elections are so far away. However, its a moment that can be brought back and shown to the public later on in the campaign in the form of interviews and campaign commercials. It a mistake that that will haunt T-Paw for the rest of the campaign.
Not only will that moment not play well with current and future voters, but T-Paw's unwillingness to take on Mitt Romney will have an impact on his campaign donations. There is a strong possibility that many of T-Paw's financial donors are considering taking their money somewhere else:
Right now there is a fierce underground battle being waged over high dollar campaign donors. If you can’t raise money now, before the voters care, you will not have the resources you need to communicate with them when they do tune in. Organizing multiple states, waging straw polls, flying around raising money and running loads of TV and radio is all very expensive. Without constant fuel, a campaign locomotive grinds to a halt. For lesser known candidates like Tim Pawlenty this can create a cruel feedback loop; you need money to buy your way up in the polls, yet without good poll numbers it is very hard to raise money. Early debates are important because if you get good media reviews, you can aggressively peddle those to old and new donors to raise money.Like weary troops or early investors in Broadway musicals, donors to candidates registering at 5% in the polls live on hope. Good early process reviews provide that hope. Donor phones come alive. “We’re staring to move up in… IA/NH/The North Barneyville straw poll!!” Sadly for Pawlenty, he did not get the clips he needed last night. Worse, his donor machine will get bad news instead of good. That’s a terror weapon for Huntsman and Romney. I’ll bet Mitt might be making a few calls to top Pawlenty donors today, thanking them for watching, expressing respect for their deep and touching loyalty to his good friend Tim and letting them he know he’d be happy to be their second choice… just in case things, well, don’t work out. We do need to unify, to beat Obama… Donors take those calls. Nearly every big donor has a plan B. Enthusiasm lags. Less pounding on the donor’s business contacts in Detroit or St. Paul for that extra check. The money wheels slow down and the bank account gets thin, just as the Iowa straw poll ramp-up costs start to mount.
Pawlenty’s failure is not the kind of stumble he can correct later. It goes to the core of the guy: offered the chance to confront Romney directly, he flinched. He did not look “nice.” He did not look like he was observing the 11th commandment. He looked uncertain and weak. He looked like a man fully aware that Romney would best him in a one-to-one discussion of healthcare policy…
After last night, Pawlenty’s fund-raising will sputter. He’s not exciting enough for ultra-base small donors. He does not look enough like a winner to mobilize big-dollar donors…
If [no one else gets in], I’d guess the future course of the race goes like this:
Bachmann wins Iowa. Romney wins New Hampshire. Absent Perry or Ryan, the field quickly empties out. The establishment rallies to Romney. The party follows just as it did in 1988, 1996 and 2000.
Rather than being the man who tells the hard truth like it is, he exposed himself as a timid, weak, uncertain candidate who is insecure about his own statements. Moreover, it made him look stupid since he couldn't even own up to his own clever zinger and claimed that he was merely recycling Obama's false claim that he used Mitt Romney's health care as a template for ObamaCare. It was a childlike excuse by blaming Obama for coming up with that zinger.
The new image of Tim Pawlenty as a irresolute, hesitant and weak candidate who couldn't own up to his own words when the time for truth came is the kind of image that will stick in the mind of the American voter. Jason Miller, media consultant and former staffer on Rudy's failed election campaign, explained what probably went on in the voters mind when they saw that they didn't get candidate he advertised himself to be:
“Republican primary voters are looking for a presidential candidate who’s going to take the fight directly to President Obama,” Miller said. “If you’re not comfortable following through on a criticism of one of your primary opponents in person, why should voters think you’ll be able to man up and follow through on a criticism of the president when you face him in the general election?”