Commentary: Political opportunism failed for Pawlenty, which should make Cramer nervous
FARGO — There are not many parallels between Tim Pawlenty and Kevin Cramer, that much we will admit. Pawlenty is from Minnesota, Cramer from North Dakota. Pawlenty is a defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate who wanted to return to his former job. Cramer is a Republican who aspires to gain a promotion from being a U.S. representative to being a U.S. senator.
But there might be a lesson for Cramer in Pawlenty's stunning and decisive defeat to grinder Jeff Johnson in last week's Minnesota primary election:
Opportunism isn't a good political strategy.
There were several reasons why Pawlenty couldn't muster enough Republican backing to make the general election ballot. The GOP changed dramatically in the eight years since he was governor. He carried baggage from his time in office. He wasn't interested in the retail politics of shaking hands and kissing babies. He was viewed as too elite for the current GOP. The list goes on.
There was also the unmistakable stench of opportunism in Pawlenty's bid.
He was the well-paid Washington, D.C., lobbyist who parachuted back into Minnesota late in the game when he saw the chance to grab a powerful job. Pawlenty never fully articulated why he wanted to be governor again, never made a case of what he was going to do if elected, never shared a vision of a Minnesota with him in charge.
It was as if Pawlenty wanted to be governor because, well, he sort of wanted to be governor and some wealthy people told him he could win. He never seemed fully engaged, convinced instead he would win because of money and familiarity.
Cramer, by his admission, was a reluctant entrant into the race against incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, sweet-talked into running by President Donald Trump and billionaire oilman Harold Hamm when Republicans could find no other credible candidates.
Cramer has yet to cut his own trail, instead preferring to attack Heitkamp and loudly proclaim he's a willing vessel of Trump. Cramer seems convinced he'll win because he's a Trump-worshipping Republican in a state that strongly favors the president. There's been no talk of whatever Cramer believes he's accomplished legislatively in the House and no roadmap to what he envisions if elected to the Senate, other than to support Trump's agenda.
It looks for all the world like Cramer is running because the pieces were in place to get a better job, even if he wasn't convinced he wanted it in the first place.
Cramer has always been the guy to go from one political job to the next, either appointed or elected, so seeking a promotion isn't unusual for him. The difference this time is that he finds himself in a competitive race and his inability to articulate exactly why he wants the job — other than to back Trump 100 percent — is telling.
Minnesotans saw Pawlenty's limp run at governor as opportunism and it was fatal. If North Dakotans see Cramer's Senate run the same way, it might be just as costly.