I join Jonathan Chait in being mildly puzzled as to why right-of-center elites seem so dissatisfied with a presidential field that includes Tim Pawlenty, a generically orthodox conservative Republican who managed to win several elections in a somewhat left of center state. To me, that’s about what you’d be looking for in a candidate. As it happens, this is something I was trying to ascertain at Saturday evening’s party before my night was disrupted by local hooligans.
I think to understand the answer you need to start with the premise (probably unfamiliar to most liberals) that the George W Bush administration was a failure. Social Security spending increased on autopilot. Medicaid spending increased on autopilot. Medicare spending increased on autopilot and increased even more thanks to programmatic increases. No significant anti-union legislation was adopted. No significant environmental regulations were repealed. K-12 education spending went up. Pell Grant spending went up. Then, inevitably, a recession hit, the left came to power, and we got Kenyan-inspired Sharia Socialism. And all this time when George W Bush was running an accommodationist White House, we had Tim Pawlenty in somewhat left-of-center Minnesota positioning himself slightly to Bush’s left (on, e.g., climate change) and mostly lacking in any signature badass policy accomplishments.
Compare that to the fact that Paul Ryan and John Boehner got the median House Republican to vote to abolish Medicare, massively cut Medicaid, and then cut all other federal domestic programs even more drastically! Scott Walker as governor of an upper midwest state jabbed a knife through the heart of public sector labor. In Indiana and Ohio anti-labor measures that are arguably even more far-reaching are being implemented. Even states like Maine and New Jersey now have conservative governors whose policy ambitions extend beyond anything associated with the Pawlenty era. To me, the sensible conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the circumstances make the man and that the political opportunities available to state level conservatism in 2011 are just different from the ones available in 2005. But I think the way it looks to conservative elites is that Pawlenty is depressingly lazy, cowardly, politically inept, or something similar.