I've continued to argue that Tim Pawlenty's candidacy is viable, and that he remains reasonably well-positioned within the nomination field as someone who can appeal to every group within the party. I've said that he has plenty of time; he doesn't need to break out of the pack yet.
And yet...well, he's picking up some useful-sounding endorsements, but obviously he's had a lousy last few weeks.
In that context, it sure seems like a blunder to me that Pawlenty chose to pass on the "Marriage" pledge promoted by Iowa social conservatives. So far, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed on; Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Pawlenty all passed. Romney's choice makes sense, in the context of a campaign that isn't going to appeal to intense social conservatives anyway. It doesn't matter much what Newt and Cain do, of course.
But Pawlenty? I don't get it. I don't see the downside of signing on. Are there quite a few nutty and, potentially, highly unpopular provisions in the "Vow"? Yup. Why isn't that a feature for him, not a bug? After all, it's not conservatives, even moderate conservatives, who would likely attack him for signing on (they might not be thrilled with it, but they're not looking for a GOP civil war if they can avoid it). No -- the only people who might well attack Pawlenty for the Marriage Vow are liberals. And Tim Pawlenty's campaign shouldn't just welcome attacks from liberals right now; he should be wearing a big target and jumping up and down waving his arms with big cartoon arrows pointing at him, begging liberals to attack him. And on marriage? Couldn't pick a better issue.
I don't want to make too much of this, but the way he's dealing with this is pretty troubling for those of us who have thought Pawlenty was a top-tier candidate, even while his polling and fundraising numbers lagged. It suggests that either he's going to make a principled choice to avoid anything that smacks of gay-baiting, race, and other such things, or that his campaign doesn't understand the basic dynamics brought on by movement conservatives and GOP-oriented media. Neither of those is good news for someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination in this cycle.
Update: Some good reporting from Sarah Posner makes Pawlenty's decision potentially a lot more sensible. If in fact the Vow and its author are getting some pretty direct flack from other Christian conservatives, then perhaps what's really going on here is that Pawlenty (and the others who passed) are trying to steer a course through social conservative infighting, which in fact might be a very sensible reason for staying clear of it (while, as Pawlenty has done, pushing his credentials on the relevant issues). Posner doesn't have anything definitive...it's worth continuing to monitor the situation, but in light of it I'll withdraw some of my downgrading of Pawlenty's chances.