A year ago at this time, I would have been crushed if you had told me that Tim Pawlenty quit the presidential race after the Iowa straw poll.
Today, I frankly couldn't care less.
Tim Pawlenty ran an awful campaign. Despite building an infrastructure as early as 2009 to rival Mitt Romney's, hiring talented former McCain/Bush hands and accruing an impressive conservative record in Minnesota, Pawlenty badly underperformed in virtually every poll and never earned the "frontrunner" status so many tried to bestow on him. Lacking Romney's deep pockets or McCain's force of personality, Pawlenty had nothing to hang his hat on when Michele Bachmann entered the race and zoomed past him.
Pawlenty should have been a top-tier candidate, and instead was left fighting with the likes of Rick Santorum and Herman Cain in the also-ran bracket.
And good riddance. A pragmatic conservative who earned an "A" rating from the Cato Institute and coined the term "Sam's Club Republican," Pawlenty swung horrendously hard to the right once he announced his candidacy. He and Romney, embarrassingly, seemed intent on climbing over each other to reach Bachmann/Limbaugh territory. Pawlenty nauseatingly adopted neoconservative dogma on empire issues, promising never to cut a dime from the Pentagon's bloated budget, arguing that the Libyan military action was too weak and attacking Barack Obama for "alienating" Israel -- a ridiculous charge.
We remarked that Pawlenty seemed to be adrift, pandering to crowds that -- at least on foreign policy issues -- he didn't really understand.
In 2009, we assumed the primary rationale for his candidacy would be a sort of conservative pseudo-populism, highlighting his union background and blue-collar roots, and touting his record of job creation in Minnesota. Instead, Pawlenty tried to play culture warrior and McCain lapdog at once. In a time when unemployment is over 9% and voters are seeking economic results, this approach was baffling. Pawlenty gutted the entire rationale for his candidacy at a time when that message would have been so well-received.
Overall, Pawlenty's candidacy was a huge disappointment. He badly underachieved, pandered to a segment of the electorate that is much smaller than he assumed and became a hysterical reactionary.
Although many pundits and even Pawlenty's rivals are lamenting the exit of a genuinely civil guy, I fail to see how the race isn't better off without him.