Uploaded on Jun 14, 2011
One day after Pawlenty linked Romney's Massachusetts health care plan with the federal health reform law as "Obamneycare" in a nationally televised interview, the former Minnesota governor retreated from the sharp critique at the first debate featuring Romney.
Pawlenty's decision to back down — coming after his campaign promoted the original assault — was met with a mix of derision and bewilderment among veteran GOP strategists who are not committed to any of the candidates.
Few could recall another example of a candidate unveiling an attack in one high-profile forum, as Pawlenty did on "Fox News Sunday," only to attempt to put the gun back in the holster in another such setting so soon afterward.
"Debates are competitions — they are alpha dog battles," explained longtime GOP ad man Alex Castellanos. "To win one, you have to create what I call an 'MOS,' a moment of strength. Tim Pawlenty had a chance to get in the ring tonight with the heavyweight champion and create such a moment. He refused to enter the ring. It was like LeBron refusing to take the big shot [Sunday] night."
"Pawlenty made an odd decision to back away from his health care attack on Romney which made him seem weak or at a minimum uncertain," said Jim Dyke, a former top Republican National Committee official, adding: "Pawlenty probably should stick to prep and skip the bowling for the next debate."
And Jason Miller, who worked on Rudy Giuliani's 2008 campaign and is now a media consultant, said Pawlenty may have turned off the electorate he was hoping to impress.
"Republican primary voters are looking for a presidential candidate who's going to take the fight directly to President Obama," Miller said. "If you're not comfortable following through on a criticism of one of your primary opponents in person, why should voters think you'll be able to man up and follow through on a criticism of the president when you face him in the general election?"
The question here on the campus of Saint Anselm University from CNN moderator John King was straightforward: "Why 'Obamneycare'?"
It also was completely predictable. By throwing his first serious punch at Romney on the eve of the debate, Pawlenty ensured that his health care attack would come up Monday night.
But when the question came, Pawlenty was caught off guard and offered a succession of halting answers.