Tim Pawlenty: The RC Cola Of Politicians?

Nate Silver notes that Tim Pawlenty’s biggest problem may be that he falls smack in the middle between the “establishment” candidates  like Romney and Huntsman and the “insurgent” candidates like Bachmann and Cain, meaning that differentiating himself from either side is very difficult:

Put differently, Mr. Pawlenty is not intrinsically well differentiated from his opponents. A lot of voters might find him acceptable — but the types of voters who find him acceptable will also tend to find a lot of other candidates acceptable.


What a candidate like this needs is a good marketing strategy. Since someone like Mr. Pawlenty doesn’t distinguish himself on the basis of the fundamentals, he instead needs to stand out on the basis of superficial factors. Think about other products that are poorly differentiated from one another, like Coke or Pepsi or Bud Light and Miller Lite. These are exactly those products that tend to invest the most into their marketing budgets — Budweiser spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year trying to convince you that they’re a better brew than Miller, even though most beer drinkers would have trouble telling them apart.

It might not be that a candidate’s branding is inherently all that important — but it’s going to tend to be more important for a candidate like Mr. Pawlenty than for one like Ron Paul, who has a more eccentric set of political views and is more of an acquired taste. Mr. Paul is the equivalent of a microbrew like Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head certainly stands to benefit from making sure that it is available in stores and that consumers are aware of its presence — but it does not really have to convince drinkers that it tastes better than Budweiser, as any drinker who might plausibly choose it is already of that opinion. Mr. Pawlenty, on the other hand, has to compete against the big brands — and the risk is that he’ll become the next Schlitz Beer or RC Cola.

Silver points to Pawlenty’s inability to move up in the polls, and his anemic fundraising, as evidence that, so far at least, his marketing isn’t working, much like RC Cola, which much to my surprise is still around although not available in any store I’ve been to lately, was never able to differentiate itself from Coke (Romney?) and Pepsi (Bachmann?).


FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. As a person who occasionally drinks Pepsi when he drinks any kind of Cola, I am insulted by your comparison of Bachmann to Pepsi. >:[

  2. James Joyner says:

    For years, RC had a loyal following in the South, where it was famously paired with a Moon Pie. I think that tradition is now bygone.

    Amusingly, given Silver’s analogy, is that RC was always an innovator. Wikipedia notes: “In 1954, Royal Crown was the first to sell a soft drink in a can, and later the first company to sell a soft drink in an aluminum can. In 1958, the company introduced the first diet cola, Diet Rite.”

    I gather what’s happened isn’t so much that RC lost that marketing wars but that soda stocking is a matter of payola. Coke and Pepsi essentially rent the shelves at supermarkets and, now that each has 400 varieties to sell, they’ve just bought out all of the available space. I don’t see much in the way of Shasta or Nehi or other flavored sodas (orange, grape, strawberrry, etc.) that were popular when I was a kid.

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    Do you think, and this is just a July 4th AM during coffee thought, Pawlenty could end up a VP candidate to Romney or one of the other sane ones? Then he’s be more like vanilla flavoring in the Coke.