Political leaders don't always rally around the front-runner for their party's presidential nomination, but they normally at least offer deference and respect. That doesn't, however, seem to be the case with Mitt Romney.
In fact, several of the party's most influential figures seem intent on bringing Romney down — and, at least according to some, it's personal. Many top national Republicans simply dislike him, and don't want him to end up in charge of the party.
It has been widely reported — although officially denied — that Mike Huckabee holds a bitter grudge against Romney from the 2008 campaign. Same for Rudy Giuliani, who, according to US News & World Report, is now strongly considering entering the race solely to beat Romney in New Hampshire.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman's bitterness toward Romney is so well-established that observers have openly speculated that his expected candidacy is also a Mitt-sabotaging assignment. Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken public shots at Romney and allowed his top campaign aides to work for Newt Gingrich.
Meanwhile, Tim Pawlenty can now consolidate anti-Romney support, thanks to the announcements of non-candidacy from Huckabee on May 14 and Mitch Daniels on the 22nd — conveniently right before Pawlenty's official campaign launch on May 23.
That means that, barring a surprise late entry, the next eight months will be a battle between Romney and Pawlenty.
Huckabee had Pawlenty as a guest on his Fox News show the weekend before Pawlenty's launch. Jeb Bush followed the day after with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal praising Pawlenty.
Such public shows of support from highly influential Republicans were notably absent for Romney, by contrast, after his big speech about health-care reform earlier this month.
There has also been, for a front-runner, a glaring lack of top-tier party-establishment figures at Romney's big recent fundraising events.
Meanwhile, Pawlenty used his official launch to none-too-subtly position himself as the anti-Romney — unveiling his campaign slogan: "Time for Truth."
Ostensibly, Pawlenty was criticizing Barack Obama, but political observers say he was clearly establishing a line of attack against the notoriously truth-challenged Romney. In addition to at least 15 uses of the word "truth," Pawlenty's speech included seemingly Romney-targeted lines, such as "Leadership in a time of crisis isn't about telling people what you think they want to hear."
It sounds like Pawlenty is telling Romney haters exactly what they want to hear.