Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty always attends the March for Life. Indeed, he's done so every year since he was first elected. Well, until this year.
On Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal, Pawlenty was too busy to attend. He was in Chaska speaking at the monthly meeting of the Chanhassen Chamber of Commerce. Now, Chambers of Commerce are an important constituency of the Republican party, and it's understandable that Pawlenty would want to talk to them. But the March for Life is the largest annual event for the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, an organization certainly more important to the GOP than the Chanhassen Chamber of Commerce.
So why was Pawlenty missing from the event? Certainly, it wasn't because no accommodation could be made to ensure the governor could get to both events. After all, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was able to both speak to the March for Life in St. Paul and make it back to Washington to deliver a rambling anti-abortion address on the floor of the House of Representatives. Certainly, arrangements could have been made to get Pawlenty from Chaska to St. Paul. And yet only Pawlenty's disembodied voice was there to address the anti-abortion faithful, exhorting them to "Stay together, stay active, stay committed and stay hopeful," even as he was apart from them.
Pawlenty's absence might be more understandable when put into context. If conservative pundit Eleanor Clift is to be believed, Pawlenty is at the top of the list for the penultimate slot on the GOP ticket, "whoever gets the nomination." Granted, Clift identified Pawlenty as being from Wisconsin, and more than a few DFLers would be happy to send him there. But Clift's musings are not exactly novel. Pawlenty has long been identified as a potential running mate, especially should Arizona Sen. John McCain win the GOP's nomination. And Pawlenty has always had an eye on his political future.
Yet politicians with aspirations for national office simply do not mix with pro-life crazies. Not in public.
It sounds a bit blunt when put like that, but it's true. While Republicans are happy to take the votes, time and effort of anti-abortion activists, most would rather be anywhere but at a large pro-life demonstration. Since 1981, when President Reagan first made a telephone call to the national March for Life, to this Tuesday, when President Bush did, no Republican president has attended a March for Life event in person. This year, neither did any of the leading Republican candidates. Mike Huckabee campaigned in Georgia, John McCain sent a letter and Mitt Romney issued a press release, but none could be bothered to actually address his anti-abortion allies in person.
Kevin Drum, a liberal blogger for The Washington Monthly, asked the rhetorical question: "Why [has the anti-abortion movement] allowed so many presidents and presidential nominees since then to thumb their noses at them this way? They're a serious and well-established part of the GOP coalition, after all. Why allow politicians to get away with being evidently embarrassed to be photographed in their presence?"
It's a good question, one with no easy answer. They assume, I suppose, that it's better to have allies who are embarrassed by you than no allies at all. Still, it's remarkable how those with national aspirations bypass their events. And how candidates who develop national aspirations suddenly find themselves with unbreakable commitments a half-hour away.