Why the Debates Will Determine the 2016 GOP Nominee

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Tim Pawlenty is barely an asterisk in presidential political lore, but what happened to his brief and undistinguished 2012 campaign signified a tectonic shift in contemporary campaigning.

By conventional wisdom, Pawlenty did everything right. He invaded my home state of Iowa with a purpose, armed with high name ID as a border state governor who was a finalist to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008. Pawlenty spent so much time here before anyone else was organized that he could’ve qualified for residency. He also bought up a lot of top-tier talent to build an impressive organization.

Yet at the crucial Iowa Straw Poll, all that organization could deliver was a distant and disappointing third-place finish. Just 48 hours later he was out of the race. Pawlenty was guilty of playing a conventional ground game in what had become an air war era. His descent from rising star to irrelevancy is a cautionary tale for candidates in 2016 and beyond.

Voters are changing, due in part to the hectic nature of our lives as well as the convenience of modern technology.

Pawlenty’s goose in Iowa was actually cooked in a New Hampshire primary debate before that fateful straw poll. Pawlenty had gone on the Sunday morning shows the previous day and attacked frontrunner Mitt Romney for being the inspiration for “Obamneycare.” But afterward, when the debate moderator offered Pawlenty the chance to confront Romney directly with his own zinger, he showed all the courage of the cowardly lion.
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