And when I ask Pawlenty, during a second interview in Des Moines, Iowa, exactly when he decided he was up to the grand challenge of the presidency, he answers in less than grandiose terms, explaining how he’d set up a political-action committee in 2009. I try again, saying I am curious about when he first imagined himself worthy of the history books, ready to send soldiers to their deaths and endure the national stage’s harsh toll. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I wish I had a good answer for you on that.” Pawlenty says it is not an idea that crossed his mind 15 or 20 years ago but that as he considered life as a relatively young ex-governor, he felt obliged not to take the easy path and “go make some money and play hockey and drink beer.” He adds that he almost didn’t run at all. “Mary and I talked about this at length, and many times, and it was a close call,” he says, mentioning his wife of 24 years. He adds with a laugh, “It could have gone the other way for all the reasons you’re suggesting.”
On the one hand, it’s not quite as damaging as Ted Kennedy’s Roger Mudd moment in 1980, because he doesn’t betray a sense of entitlement to the office. His humility is almost endearing, and there are good arguments for entrusting power to someone who hesitates to lift the scepter.
Yet there’s the not insignificant matter of how Crowley framed the question. He’s asking Pawlenty why he feels “ready to send soliders to their deaths” and the ex-governor replies that it beats the alternative of playing hockey and drinking beer. Pawlenty doesn’t have a problem convincing people he’s a nice, relatively normal guy. He does have problems convincing people he has the gravitas to be president.