Todd Domke

Boring no more

How Tim Pawlenty can win the GOP nomination

By Todd Domke
August 4, 2011

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Second in a series of scenarios on how GOP presidential candidates could win the nomination

IT’S SIX months from now - shortly before the New Hampshire primary.

Looking through a two-way mirror, Tim Pawlenty and his strategist observe a focus group.

A pollster asks the voters to describe Pawlenty. They answer: “Boring.’’ “Reminds me of a dentist.’’ “Soft white bread, with mayo.’’

Pawlenty turns to his strategist. “Why did you want me to watch? Shock therapy?’’

The strategist smiles. “It’s too late for that. You are what you are.’’ He puts a DVD in his laptop. “Before we talk strategy, let’s review our TV spots.’’

They view the fast-paced slick spots, ending with Pawlenty on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Pawlenty chuckles. “Eye candy.’’

“No, brain freeze. Voters see you as boring, no matter what we advertise. We tried selling your accomplishments as governor of Minnesota. We tried going negative, like the spot morphing Jimmy Carter into President Obama. Nothing has worked.’’

“What can we do?’’

“Well, everyone thinks you’d make a great vice president.’’

“Don’t be defeatist. We still have a prime-time debate tomorrow.’’

“That’s a good time to take a dive. Don’t criticize anyone who might need a running mate.’’

Late that night. . . The depressed candidate is alone in his dark motel room. He flips through TV channels, catching some talk shows. The pundits are merciless. “Pawlenty is the walking dead.’’ Click. “Pawlenty is a broke joke.’’ Click.

Pawlenty tries movie channels. He stops on “Network,’’ the satirical film about a TV network struggling with poor ratings. Howard Beale, the news anchor, launches into his on-air rant . . .

“We all know things are bad - worse than bad - they’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms . . .’ Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! . . . I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!’ ’’

Pawlenty’s eyes are bulging. He looks hypnotized.

The next evening. . . Standing at their debate podiums, all the candidates are wearing dark blue. Except Pawlenty. He’s in a gray raincoat, white turtleneck, and sandals, with matted hair and puffy eyes.

Early in the CNN debate, moderator John King shows video from a 2011 debate when he asked candidates if they preferred Coke or Pepsi. “Well, has anyone changed positions?’’

Mitt Romney: “Actually, I like both.’’

Ron Paul: “I keep a stash of RC Cola -’’

“Silence!!’’ Pawlenty cries. “We are candidates for the most powerful office in the world. We shouldn’t jump through hoops. Mr. King, I have news for you: This isn’t a circus. Our country is sliding into mediocrity and bankruptcy, yet we amuse ourselves to death. We’re losing our manufacturing and falling behind in education. Our elites have failed us! And you people at home, you’re part of the problem. You hear ‘millions, billions, trillions’ and wonder: what’s the difference? You believe in magic, not math. Fools! This isn’t a reality show!’’

The moderator interrupts, “Sorry, your time is up. Next question: Quiche or Hot Pockets?’’

Pawlenty shouts: “No more trivia!! It’s time for the god-awful truth. . .’’ His rant continues several minutes, until security guards escort him off stage.

After the debate, a televised focus group expresses overwhelming approval of his outburst.

Talk shows talk of nothing else. Bill O’Reilly: “He’s like an Old Testament prophet. Gloom, doom, hellfire, damnation, righteous outrage - what’s not to like?’’ Chris Matthews: “He might be certifiably crazy, but he gave me a tingle.’’ Ann Coulter: “Pawlenty bared his soul. Braver still, he was bare-faced; he wore no makeup. He’s fearless.’’

“The Pawlenty rant’’ goes viral.

Election Day. . . In New Hampshire, independent voters swarm into the Republican primary.

At Pawlenty’s victory party he declares: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not boring anymore!’’

Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.