Pawlenty’s delayed reaction

Tim Pawlenty had a chance on Monday to press Republican rival Mitt Romney on health care policy during a nationally televised debate. Instead, he blinked — Pawlenty pulled his punch (which looked weak) and refused to stand by criticism he’d made just the day before (which looked cowardly).

The media reaction has been unkind, and Pawlenty has been hammered over this, even by many Republicans.

So, today, the former Minnesota governor decided to take a swing.

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty conceded on Thursday that he missed a prime opportunity to go after Mitt Romney during this week’s presidential primary debate.

The former Minnesota governor initially rebutted his critics, saying the day after the debate that he didn’t back down from the GOP’s front-runner on healthcare reform. While he missed an opportunity, Pawlenty said he is better on substance when it comes to healthcare.

“On seizing debate opportunity re: healthcare: Me 0, Mitt 1. On doing healthcare reform the right way as governor: Me 1, Mitt 0,” he tweeted.

OK, let’s count all of the problems with this.

First, if it takes a presidential campaign three days to come up with a response to a debate question, that’s a problem. I can think of candidates who are slow on their feet, but this is ridiculous.

Second, when Pawlenty is only willing to go on the offensive against Romney when Romney isn’t actually around, he’s going to lose.

And third, the response it took three days to come up with is factually wrong. Romney’s health care policy has been a terrific success and Massachusetts has become the best state in the nation for health care coverage. In Minnesota, Pawlenty’s record on the issue is something of a dud. What makes him think he has the high ground on this?

If a campaign is going to ponder a response over 72 hours, couldn’t the candidate and his team at least get the details right?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.