If there is one commonality between presidential candidates of both political parties, it’s that they all desire to be prophetic. John McCain put all of his political capital all on the line when he advocated for the surge in Iraq. He did so before the Bush White House came around to his point of view. When the policy was successful, McCain reaped the political benefits, which he rode to the Republican nomination.
It’s doubtful that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty thought he was being prophetic when he was trying to connect to the younger generation by referencing Charlie Sheen at a College Republican gathering last Friday night, but sadly he was.
In September of 2010, Pawlenty hired Ben Foster, a recent college grad from the University of Alabama, to begin to lay the groundwork for him in Iowa. Yesterday, at around 4 a.m., Ankeny police arrested Foster for public intoxication and trespassing. The incident has created a massive amount of negative press in Iowa, Minnesota, and even nationally for Pawlenty’s young campaign.
Foster’s arrest, the odd details about the incident, and Pawlenty’s response to the news makes his campaign resemble one of Sheen’s rambling, incoherent online rants instead of a substantive and serious presidential campaign. This one drunken night out on the town by a staffer has resulted in more press than Pawlenty would have received had he given a policy speech yesterday.
While I understand why the Pawlenty campaign wants this story to go away, the details surrounding Foster’s arrest are odd. The various news stories about the incident make it seem like Foster was drunk and confused and tried to enter the wrong house. The only problem is that Foster wasn’t even in the right town when he tried to enter a home. Even more strange is that when Foster was confronted by the occupant of the home, who had a gun, he still tried to enter the home.
Pawlenty’s Campaign Responds
This is a major embarrassment for the Pawlenty campaign. While the campaign stated that Foster will have to “bear the legal consequences for his actions,” they are only suspending him without pay for two weeks. That’s extremely lenient considering the problems that he has caused the campaign. One has to wonder if Foster will be an asset to the campaign in Iowa following the well-publicized incident. Is Pawlenty really going to send him out to speak on behalf of his campaign following this situation?
It’s interesting that the Pawlenty campaign would rather continue to deal with the aftermath of Foster’s actions than cutting their losses and moving on. If they really like the kid, and they obviously do, then they should find a role for him to fill that’s not in Iowa. To be successful in the caucuses, campaign staffers have to be able to network and gain the trust of Iowa activists. Following all of the news stories yesterday, that is going to be a difficult task for Foster.
As we have seen with other news stories that deal with elected officials who have been caught drunk driving in the last couple years, these stories don’t just go away. If Foster remains on Pawlenty’s staff another story will surface once a news outlet obtains the police report that contains his blood alcohol level and other details about the arrest.
Foster’s incident should provide a lesson for other political staffers. If you are intoxicated, get a cab to drive you home. It’s well worth the cost and any inconvenience. When I worked for Steve Forbes in 2000, we were constantly reminded about how our actions could reflect poorly on the candidate.
Every time there was a problem on another campaign, the staff would be reminded of what to do in a particular situation. It didn’t matter if it was the Pat Buchanan staffer who got pulled over for speeding with the candidate in the car, or someone getting pulled over for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, the fear of needlessly embarrassing your boss was always there.
Those rules are even more important with today’s 24/7 news cycle. And Tim Pawlenty and Ben Foster are learning that lesson the hard way.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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