Running for President of the United States takes a lot of things. It takes a thick skin. It takes a pretty big ego. But more than anything it takes a lot of money. A lot. The pointed juxtaposition of ego and money came to the surface in the Republican field of candidates this weekend with the announcement of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty that he was dropping out of the race for President and that current Governor Rick Perry of Texas was getting in.
The tired fact of American politics is that a candidacy for President can end before there has been a single registered vote determining the candidate’s value. Pawlenty dropped out 15 months before the actual election for the Presidency after losing the “straw vote” in Ames, Iowa this weekend. Former winners of this sage event have included Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm. Other than the true political junkie like me, nobody remembers Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm because the country as a whole does not measure the content of the character of the nation’s future president on an informal poll in the Hawkeye state over a year before the real election. It may turn out that nobody will remember Michelle Bachmann, the winner of this year’s straw poll. What was clear to Pawlenty that there are two things needed to become President, outsized ego and outsized access to money, and both he was woefully short on. The money he had, he spent on some very expensive television commercials prior to the poll that tried to nationalize the Pawlenty persona, but he was smaller than his commercials, unable to stimulate loyalty or passion in the state adjacent to Minnesota, whereas Bachmann his fellow Minnesotan could. Finishing third, Pawlenty knew the donor money would rapidly dry up and would soon compete with his ego for inadequacy for the challenge. It appears the country has vetted Pawlenty, a good man and a good governor with governing talent, as not big enough for the bigger job.
That brings us to Rick Perry. That wooshing sound Tim Pawlenty’s money coffers heard this week was the sound of money donors rushing to underwrite the governor of Texas. Rick Perry brings outsized Texas ego and big time financial resources to the presidential mix and has immediately positioned himself as the purer conservative answer to Mitt Romney, the establishment candidate and front runner. Perry brings the Texas success story of booming economy and jobs creation to a country starving for both, but it is unclear as to whether there is sufficient trust out there to elect another Texan with an outsized ego and a cowboy accent to the position of chief executive of the country.
Pawlenty staked his entire candidacy on the Ames straw poll and Perry avoided it like the plague for the same reason – political ego. Pawlenty knew only a win could bring heft to his paper thin political persona and Perry knew that real egos don’t expose themselves to peripheral popularity surveys as it would only risk their diminishment. The bottom line effect is a pulling to the right of the political field and the resources needed to fund it. Only time will tell if this is the last significant shift in the political tectonic plates before the real “bullets” start flying in January 2012. To win in 2012, a candidate is going to need a lot of ego and a lot of money to take on the undisputed current world champion of both, Barack Obama.