Book chronicles Pawlenty, Bachmann flameouts

6:09 PM, Nov 12, 2013   |    comments
Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty
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WASHINGTON -- So much for Minnesota Nice on the presidential campaign trail.

It wasn't so long ago that the nation watched as both contenders from the state, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann, whiffed at critical moments when they should have attacked their 2012 opponents.

Now a new book promises to bring it all back again and focus renewed attention on the spectacular flameouts of their candidacies.

"They shared a reverent evangelical faith and a biting distaste for each other. (Bachmann considered Pawlenty a weak-kneed fraud; he disparaged her as 'dangerous' and 'insane,'" authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write in "Double Down."

"But in 2012, what would bind them together was their emergence as twin illustrations of a verity of presidential politics: that a single aberrant moment can demolish a candidacy - if the candidate is sufficiently fragile."

The book is billed as a sequel to "Game Change," their best-seller about the 2008 race, and HBO has already bought the film rights. While most of the book follows the campaigns of President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney, there are some choice passages about Pawlenty, who eventually made Romney's short list of potential vice presidential running mates, and Bachmann.

Representatives of Bachmann and Pawlenty, who is now president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable in Washington, declined to comment when asked about the book Tuesday.

Halperin and Heilemann assert that Pawlenty's viability essentially dissolved during a New Hampshire debate in June 2011. The former Minnesota governor had been primed to whack Romney on "Obamneycare" -- a conflation of Romney's health care law in Massachusetts with Obama's federal overhaul. But when the time came to deliver the blow, he balked. Three times.

"Pawlenty would spend the next few days in denial about his strikeout," Halperin and Heilemann write. "But the political world's umpires rendered a swift, definitive ruling. The media decried him as feckless and faint-hearted."

The authors paint Pawlenty as awkward -- a candidate who "never seemed comfortable with his image or identity as a presidential contender." Even though his blue-collar roots and regular-guy tastes were an asset, they say, he bristled at being called plain. And there was friction between his campaign manager and his wife, Mary, who valued his "Minnesota nice" reputation. Perhaps too much.

It was after a conversation with Mary that Pawlenty failed to deliver the Obamneycare attack. Although his advisers had sensed hours earlier that he might waver.

"When T-Paw's advisers reminded him that afternoon about the imperative of following through, Pawlenty shut the conversation down, putting on his headphones, turning up the music, and staring off into the distance," Halperin and Heilemann write.

But that same Minnesota Nice would have served Pawlenty in another role, they say.

Obama campaign officials conducted extensive focus groups on potential vice presidential picks and found that Pawlenty would have been the best choice to complement Romney's wealth and the perception that he was out of touch.

"Their research showed that Pawlenty's 'pro-beer, pro-hockey' persona might have helped ameliorate the nominee's case of 'affluenza,' " the authors wrote.

But Romney's people never polled, they say, preferring to keep their potential picks secret.

In Bachmann's case, it was highly unusual for her to shrink from a fight. But in Waterloo, Iowa, when faced with the prospect of confronting Texas Gov. Rick Perry, she "freaked out," the authors say.

She had planned an attack line - "From one former cheerleader to another, welcome to Iowa!" - but when she reached the dinner where Perry was also speaking in August 2011, she stayed holed up in her campaign bus waiting for him to leave.

"'I don't want to be in the room with him,'" she told her aides, according to the book. Her aides then lied to her and told her he had left so she would go inside.

When she did get on stage, she saw Perry in the front row and was visibly thrown off.

"Distressed and discombobulated, she meandered through a disjointed version of her stump speech," Halperin and Heilemann wrote.

She had won the Ames straw poll the day before but was lambasted for her performance in Waterloo, and her campaign would "never gain altitude again."

The authors note that Bachmann's campaign had been rife with "gaffes galore," from saying "the shot heard round the world" happened in New Hampshire (that was Massachusetts) to asserting that John Wayne was from Waterloo (he was from Winterset; serial killer John Wayne Gacy was from Waterloo).

It got so bad that her son joked, "you can't say George Washington was the first president unless we Google that s-t first," the authors recount.

When Bachmann's candidacy sputtered and she lost the Iowa caucuses, her aides advised her to stay in the race through some debates in New Hampshire, but she was done.

"'God, I'm a loser,'" she said while sobbing over the loss in her campaign bus, according to Halperin and Heilemann. "'God, I turn people off.'"

She instructed her aides to draft a withdrawal speech for the next day.

 

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