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Weak One

Was Pawlenty’s first week running for president a success—or a big flop?

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for president on Monday, just a week after fellow presidential contender Newt Gingrich managed to torpedo his own nascent campaign within a matter of days. Could Pawlenty avoid the same fate? Here’s a breakdown of how his first week fared. 

Sunday: In a YouTube video, Pawlenty previewed his announcement with a shot of a vacant teleprompter, and a shot at Barack Obama: “I could give a speech, and tell you I was running for president … Or I could try something different: I could just tell you the truth.” The video received around 75,000 hits in the first two days, 20,000 less than Gingrich’s announcement video. As of that evening, Pawlenty was averaging around 4 percent support for the GOP nomination in recent opinions polls.

Monday: Pawlenty headed Des Moines, Iowa, where, in front of a crowd of about 200 people, he made his announcement speech (using a teleprompter). The speech received almost no live coverage from the cable networks; President Obama’s speech in Ireland is carried live on all three. The Republican reaction to Pawlenty’s announcement is positive, but this is in large part due to the fact that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has dropped out of the race. “Pawlenty should be bouncing off the walls right now,” GOP strategist Fred Malek told the Washington Post, because he’s “the more natural inheritor of the support that was going to Daniels.” The speech itself did not play as well; Pawlenty’s chosen theme of “truth telling” prompted an unfavorable fact-check from the AP and a tepid response from Iowa voters, who learned that said truths included cutting ethanol funding. In addition, Pawlenty’s Republican predecessor as Minnesota governor blasted his fiscal record, and a CNN poll of the New Hampshire primary showed Pawlenty polling at 4 percent, tied for sixth with Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Jon Huntsmann, and 28 points behind Mitt Romney.

Tuesday: Pawlenty woke up to some good news, with the Wall Street Journal editorial board praising his stand against ethanol subsidies (though Iowans might still be less likely to agree). He flew to Florida, where the “truth-telling” continued, with Pawlenty telling voters that both Social Security and Medicare will have to be overhauled. He refused, however, to explicitly support or oppose Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. Elsewhere, news broke that Pawlenty is still available for paid speaking gigs, after the speaker’s bureau that books Pawlenty sent out an advertisement for his services that touted his presidential campaign as a selling point.

Wednesday: Pawlenty spoke (sans teleprompter) at the libertarian Cato Institute to an audience consisting largely of journalists about the importance of fiscal discipline. His decision to hold the conference next to the intersection of Massachusetts and 10th Street meant that, thanks to ambient noise from traffic, he had to repeat several of his answers to opposite sides of the press gaggle. When asked about Ryan’s plan in his post-speech Q&A, Pawlenty praised Ryan’s “leadership and courage,” but again refused to commit to the plan. Pawlenty also proclaimed a refusal to cut defense spending, to the noticeable dissatisfaction of Cato president Ed Crane, who had introduced the governor. (Several Cato representatives, including Crane and vice-president David Boaz, later criticized the speech.) Finally, after telling the Cato audience that he had “an unusual amount of experience in foreign policy for a governor,” Pawlenty was asked about American policy towards Iran. His entire answer swapped Iraq for Iran.

Thursday: Not content with paeans to Paul Ryan’s courage, reporters and Democrats continued to question Pawlenty, now in New Hampshire, about Ryan’s plan. To the delight of Democrats everywhere, T-Paw told reporters, “if I can't have [my own plan], and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan's plan, of course I would sign it.”

Friday: Two organizations—CNN and Gallup—released new presidential polls overnight. Between the two, Pawlenty is still in the single digits, averaging 5.5 percent.

James Downie is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic.

Follow @tnr on Twitter.