Jonah Goldberg

"Pawlenty's attacks get more pointed," announced a headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He's betting sharper rhetoric will spring him from GOP pack," clarified the subhead.

Did the former Minnesota Republican governor call the president a Muslim? A socialist? Nope. He declared that the country's mounting debt was a "pile of poo." Clearly, the guy running the bleep button for the GOP primary debates isn't worried about Tim Pawlenty.

In fairness, some of his other comments have been a bit more pointed, but Pawlenty's problem remains: He's boring. He's so boring he could have replaced James Franco at the Oscars without making the awards any more interesting. And he's unknown. It is very difficult for dull candidates to become well-known candidates while remaining dull. Hence Pawlenty's audacity of "poo."

Pawlenty's not alone. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another potential GOP presidential contender, has what George Will calls "the low-key charisma of competence."

Daniels and Pawlenty (with perhaps Mitt Romney, depending on what persona he assumes this week) represent one front in what is shaping up to be the great schism within the GOP. Call it the battle of the fighters versus the fixers. The fighters, best represented by Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, are keen to tap into the energy and passion of the "tea partyers." Most have Fox News contracts (full disclosure: I've got one too, but I'm biding my time for 2028), and have honed their rhetoric. They're expert bomb-throwers, not ham-fisted poo-flingers.

Meanwhile, the fixers, mostly governors, claim to be more hands-on. They're doing the hard and unglamorous work under the hood of government, and they are more concerned with injecting some sobriety into the climate of fiscal crapulence we've seen in recent years.

Of course, labels invite complaints. Gingrich, head of something called American Solutions, would no doubt object that he too is a "fixer." And Daniels, a solid Reaganite conservative who ended collective bargaining for government workers six years ago (when few of us had ever heard of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker), can make a plausible claim that he is a real fighter.

And that's what's interesting about the divide: It is as much stylistic as it is substantive. To be sure, the debate will be pigeonholed into more familiar terms: social conservatives versus moderates, RINOs versus purists, outsiders versus the inside-the-Beltway crowd. But all of these labels have serious deficiencies. For instance, Gingrich's tenure inside the Beltway stretches two decades, but he is rhetorically far less of a D.C.-establishment type than Pawlenty.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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