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John Eby: There’s still a role for The Donald Trump to play

Published 7:31am Thursday, May 26, 2011

The media knock former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty as too nice to be Republican standard bearer in 2012.

Apparently they’d rather see a brash loudmouth like Donald Trump paint the White House gold and decorate Air Force One with a Celebrity Apprentice logo featuring his face.

Good ratings, especially if he’s determining invasions as arbitrarily as he decided between John Rich and Marlee Matlin.

I thought after letting La Toya Jackson back into the game to fire her again, he might be poised to agree on a tie with his players, who all but slap themselves when they forget and start to call the imperious Mr. Trump by his first name.

Maybe we can get Pawlenty on Apprentice so we can peel back the layers and see what makes him tick, like we’re all looking at Dionne Warwick, Gary Busey (crazy like a fox), Lil Jon and weepy emotional wreck Meatloaf, the Bat Out of Heck, in new light.

Trump, Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour exited on their own, and Sarah Palin’s laying low somewhere.

Sniffing around the nomination are retreads Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich; Jon Huntsman, who had been President Obama’s ambassador to China; and pizza mogul Herman Cain.

When the time comes, we can call the candidates into the boardroom and Trump can cull the field with his trademark “You’re fired.”

If Rich survived a gaffe the size of Def Leppard for his St. Jude kids, there’s still hope for Pawlenty, except his problem might not be that this blue-collar truck driver’s son with a Polish name is too likable and decent to occupy the Oval Office.

Pawlenty, who could be played in the movie about his life by Steve Carell, has a durable line for the GOP Gong Show, which values the margin over the middle: “Don’t confuse being loud with being strong.”

He also likes to say Republicans must appeal to more Americans as the “party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”

Ed Gillespie, the former Republican chairman and George W. Bush adviser, called Pawlenty a “very credible candidate. I would not be surprised if at the end of the day it comes down to him and somebody else.”

Pawlenty sees himself as “the one candidate in the race who can unite and excite the whole conservative movement and the Republican Party. I think most of the other candidates are going to appeal to one of those buckets (social issues, national security and the budget). But I can appeal to all of them deeply and authentically, and I’ve got the record to back it up,” he told Time.

Pawlenty — who wouldn’t seem uncharismatic following professional wrestler Jesse Ventura? — appeared on the national radar in 2008 when his name was floated as a potential squeaky clean running mate for John McCain.

He grew up in South Saint Paul. His mom died of ovarian cancer when he was 16.

One of five Catholic siblings, he put himself through the University of Minnesota working in a grocery store.

Friends say he has a genuine connection to average middle Americans.

He governed as a conservative in Walter Mondale’s state, which hasn’t voted Republican for president since 1972.

He went toe to toe with public employee unions “before it was cool,” according to the National Review.

He vetoed Democratic tax-hike bills, which led to a nine-day state government shutdown in 2005.

Yet Minnesota grapples with a $5 billion deficit projection and even a Republican like Arne Carlson, governor from 1991-1999, says, “I don’t think any governor has left behind a worse financial mess.”

The state supreme court restored $2.7 billion he cut in 2009.

A ruling written by a chief justice Pawlenty appointed found he exceeded his authority.

Pawlenty got $2 billion in help from President Obama’s stimulus he ripped as wasteful.

To his credit, he was somewhat of a global warming activist, but that’s poison points in his party — and hypocritical in general with his Romneyesque “It was a mistake and I’m sorry” in the May 6 Fox News debate.

He’s ratcheting up his rhetoric away from nice because he could easily be eclipsed right out of the box in Iowa by a fierier Minnesotan, Michelle Bachmann, and never get to hear Trump say, “You’re hired.”

Minnesota obit: Harmon Killebrew, one of my favorite baseball sluggers, along with Frank Howard. I remember as a boy reading a biography about the Idahoan, who died May 17 at 74. Killer stroked 42 home runs his first full season and went on to hit 573 for his 22-season career. The Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 to become the Twins.

“He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word,” former teammate Rod Carew said.

26: Number of Joplin Globe employees severely impacted by the May 22 tornado. Eighteen completely lost their homes.

The Globe Publisher Michael Beatty was quoted saying employees began reporting for work minutes after the tornado hit, redoing Monday morning’s edition to make it to the press just an hour late.

“It was amazing,” Beatty said in the story. “These people came in who had lost their homes completely. But they were just dedicated to their jobs, to getting the story out.”

“I heard they have 91 newspaper carriers, and I think 81 of the 91 showed up to get that first newspaper out after the tornado,” said Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association. What heroes.

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