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The Tragedy of Tim Pawlenty

TNR writer Walter Shapiro recently spent a month on the Tim Pawlenty beat, reporting a profile for the latest issue of the magazine. Shapiro found an ambitious, meticulous, details-oriented politician who is everything the Republican electorate says they want in a nominee, but who is failing to gain traction:

PAWLENTY HAS ALWAYS displayed a striver’s zeal for advance planning and perfectionism—and that may well be his defining trait as a politician. “He is a great strategist,” says Steve Sviggum, who became house speaker at the same time Pawlenty was elevated to majority leader. “When we would negotiate as majority leader and speaker, he’d have the endgame mapped out in advance and have already figured out alternative ways to get there.” But Sviggum was both amused—and occasionally irked—at Pawlenty’s penchant for sweating the small stuff. “Tim would re-work almost every line in every news release,” Sviggum recalls. “He would get into minute detail, and there were times that he’d try to manage too much.”
That same obsession carried over to the governor’s office. “He was a very detail-oriented governor,” says Charlie Weaver, who was Pawlenty’s first chief of staff. “When it came to the legislature, he’d read every bill. He’d read every press release. He’s a nit-picker. It used to drive me crazy.” Hanson, who was deputy chief of staff at the time, says: “It was Trivial Pursuit every time I’d brief the governor. He’d ask questions until I missed one. The game was how long could we go before he got me.”
Although it rarely comes up on the campaign trail, a potential president’s administrative style matters more than his predictable response to the one hundred thirty-ninth straight question about his expectations for the Iowa Straw Poll. When I asked Pawlenty about his reputation for detail-obsessed management—even citing Weaver’s nit-picking comment—he acknowledged, “That may have been true in the past, but it isn’t true more recently.” Harking back to his transformation from a legislator with a tiny staff to a governor in 2003, Pawlenty said that he adopted “a more delegating style” as he “got a bigger team and got a team that I trusted.” But the former governor also conceded that “the need to micro-manage more or macro-manage more depended on who was working for me at the time.”
The topic clearly hit a nerve with Pawlenty. When I attempted to move on and ask a question on an entirely different subject, Pawlenty interrupted me. “On this nit-picker issue,” he began—and then launched into another protestation that he had evolved since Weaver worked for him.
Read the entire story here.