Monday, June 13, 2005

"We're from the party, sir, and we're here to help you" 

We learned during the NARN broadcast that the Minnesota GOP had replaced Ron Eibensteiner with Ron Carey as its chair. According to descriptions from First Ringer, Residual Forces, and Kennedy vs. The Machine, it was either a mutiny or a bloodletting. They are also almost uniformly upset that this strengthens the hands of the Democrats.

They're worried about the wrong thing. The DFL's hand has been strengthened by things that occurred before Saturday. These are now sunk costs (or more precisely, sunk decisions). Sunk costs are irrelevant to decisionmaking, though they are part of the profit-and-loss calculation. We will have bigger government now regardless of what happens. What we need to focus on is what happens next, particularly in the governor's mansion.

The focus on Pawlenty is correct, but I don't thing words like bloodletting or mutiny are correct. The correct word is that the party performed an "intervention" on TPaw, meant in the same way you do with a friend who has developed an unhealthy addiction, or who is marrying the wrong person, or buying a sports car in the middle of a midlife crisis, &c. After drawing a bright line for three years that there would be no new taxes, Pawlenty threw this away for ... well, we don't know yet, but he's promised he's going to get something, soon. That's not the talk of a leader; that's not the talk of someone with principles and conviction. It's not the talk of Candidate Pawlenty, who was the candidate folks like Margaret got behind.

Interventions are messy. The person who's lost his way doesn't realize it, and is often in denial. There's plenty of evidence that Pawlenty is still in denial that there's a real problem here, including his reported "storming out" of the central committee meeting between ballots -- if true, because I've asked others attending who said he left before the first ballot. This isn't exactly like the four stages of grieving, but there are similarities. And denying there's a problem is certainly Stage One.

Thus Eibensteiner had to go, to confront the denial. And to show that the fist had some velvet, it made sense to leave Eric Hoplin in place. You don't want the intervention to leave the sense that you don't care about them any more. The party isn't ready to throw Pawlenty over the side of the boat -- he's still their best candidate -- and discouraging him isn't going to help. But he needed to be shown that the worker bees of the party mean business about holding to the pledge not to raise taxes.

Part of this comes, I think, from the national asperations that TPaw seems to hold. He cannot run for national office with a government shutdown this year that can be pinned on him. He will be pilloried in the press, his negatives driven up and a campaign issue to be used against him. He's less a firebrand than someone who wants to be seen a competent and well-liked leader, and so he reads the papers and the polls more than, say, a Schwarzenegger. And he has an unhealthy addiction to papers and polls. So he agrees to a bonding bill early -- David is exactly correct that this removed an important lever for the session -- and ends up blinking before the Democrats, who had no compelling reason to want a deal once larger spending bills in many areas had already been passed and their friends in the construction business got their borrowed money.

And he may feel that he can take advantage of the party faithful by figuring there will be no opposition to his re-election campaign here in MN for 2006. What has to happen to get his attention is that the party point out to him that there are alternatives they might prefer if he continues down a path that leads to expanding government.

If my analysis is correct, there will be some days while Pawlenty absorbs the message. We must then wait to see if he decides to go forward with his plans or if he changes and admits mistakes. Both of these are painful, which is one reason for the anguished righty-blogs over the weekend. But it is necessary. Sacking Eibensteiner will not kill GOP chances in 2006 outright, but it's now up to Pawlenty for it to make the GOP stronger. What we should worry about, rather than strengthening the DFL's hand, is the choice Pawlenty makes next.