The status of two homegrown Minnesota presidential candidacies says a lot about the trajectory of the Republican party.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign is over. The most conservative governor in this state's modern history apparently wasn't fiery or "authentic" enough for the small-government purists and unflinching social conservatives who have seized the initiative within the GOP.
Even though Pawlenty signed on to nearly the whole Tea Party agenda, and even though he tried hard -- maybe too hard at times -- to deliver rhetorical zingers in all directions, he never got "lift" among the GOP faithful, as he put it Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, is flying higher than ever after her victory in the Ames straw poll. Bachmann's signature posture has always been an inflexible devotion to principle on virtually every issue -- social or fiscal -- that she engages, and it clearly strums the heartstrings of today's Republican base.
Bachmann has a gift for framing policy alternatives as a supremely simple choice between the right and the wrong, whether it's a dispute over the debt ceiling, bank bailouts or abortion or same-sex marriage.
There is more than ideology involved, no doubt, in Bachmann's success so far and Pawlenty's failure. Bachmann's credentials as a political insurgent appear to have a special appeal.
Pawlenty may have suffered from being just one more candidate touting experience and an establishment resume, and not for the first time. Four years ago, after all, he lost the vice presidential nod to Sarah Palin, another woman with an outsider's image.
It is also notable that maverick Texas congressman Ron Paul, despite his eyebrow-raising isolationist passions, ran a close second to Bachmann Saturday. The establishment GOP's purported front runner, Mitt Romney, ran well behind even pizza magnate Herman Cain.
Perhaps all this suggests that the Ames straw poll is an unrepresentative sampling to which excessive attention is paid. Yet in years past, mainstream Republicans have fared much better in these contests. Romney won easily four years ago.
Clearly, something has changed in the GOP, and nothing may illustrate the transformation better than the fact that, as of Saturday, Bachmann's is indisputably the face of Minnesota Republicanism.
The state party has recently been at odds with some of its centrist elder statesmen over Pawlenty-style conservatism -- yet that now seems to be the watered-down brand.
Hard-edged Tea Party militancy is bringing intense energy to GOP politics. But rank-and-file Republicans must weigh carefully whether nominating a pure, but polarizing, candidate would best serve the nation -- or best further their heartfelt mission to unseat President Obama next year.
We wish Tim Pawlenty well in the next phase of his career. But we would be surprised if this marks the end of his political life.
Though we often, even usually, disagree with him, he is a man of talent and ambition. We expect to see his name on a prominent ballot again.
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