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Hem-Haw Tim-Paw Tanks

The blogosphere is awash with references to Tim Pawlenty's limp performance in the GOP opening debates, paired with positive spin about Michelle Bachmann's comparatively strong presentation, prompting considerable snarkage about who really leads the MN GOP (Hint: It ain't the ex-guv).

The punditariat is a tad mystified as to why Tim-Paw refused to elaborate on his pre-debate "Obamneycare" trial balloon, which many observers thought was a pretty clever zinger against the front-runner. Perhaps Pawlenty figured Romney had an equally-clever counter-punch at the ready, so why blunder into it. But the wide read on Pawlenty's reluctance, especially after being pressed by CNN moderator John King, is that it did make him look evasive. Here's how Josh Marshall described it in his post "Pawlenty's Pitiful Moment" at Talking Points Memo, which also includes the video clip :

...The key moment where Gov. Pawlenty hemmed and hawed and ducked and weaved and wasn't willing to repeat his criticisms to Romney's face. Embarrassing. People get that. They have words for it.

Elsewhere at TPM, Marshall adds:

...The big story here was Pawlenty. He choked at a critical moment when he wouldn't repeat the criticisms he's made of Romney to his face. That makes him look weak. And more than weak I think it cuts against people's sense of fair play and just being what we Jews call being a mensch. If you criticize someone when they're not around. Be ready to stay it to their face. If you're not, you're just not for real. That's elemental and I think people understand and remember that in a way they just don't with the endless run of policy details candidates toss out.

Well, it wasn't pretty. But I doubt it will prove fatal just yet, although another such choke would likely do him in as a viable candidate. Marshall is not alone in giving the night to Romney, and others give Bachmann a thumbs up as well, if only because she avoided making any characteristic blunders.

Newt and the others failed to make much of an impression, either way, although Ron Paul was gutsy, in GOP context, about bailing out of Afghanistan. I doubt he'll get much cross-over support from anti-war moderates as a result, though, owing to his past association with some of the ugliest expressions of racial bigotry in recent times, even though the mainstream media has been too timid to call him on it.

No doubt the Romney camp is all smiles today. It won't last. The GOP field, such as it is, will soon come after him with well-honed verbal pitchforks. I gather Romney's nomination strategy includes letting the more conservative candidates divide the wingnut/tea party vote, so he can squeak by with the support of the saner Republicans. It's not all that bad of a strategy, but the road ahead is increasingly pocked with political landmines bearing his name.