WASHINGTON — Tim Pawlenty’s CPAC speech was delivered under far less than optimal circumstances. His voice, which was cracking yesterday, seemed more hoarse today. His speech began at a few minutes after 2 p.m. Central, the time when the CPAC straw poll closed (meaning his remarks wouldn’t affect the polling one iota).
And attention was divided anyway. Ongoing events in Egypt, particularly the departure of President Mubarak, dictated that President Obama would have to respond live, which he did just as Pawlenty began speaking. As Pawlenty neared the end, Obama surprised journalists in the White House Briefing Room to laud outgoing Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at his final briefing.
Yet here he stood, his moment in the somewhat-shaded sun, and let rip.
“Now, I’m not one who questions the existence of the President’s birth certificate,” Pawlenty said. “But when you listen to his policies, don’t you at least wonder what planet he’s from?” At that point, some wisecracker shouted, “Uranus!” and Pawlenty laughed before continuing.
“On what planet do they create jobs by taxing the daylight out of people trying to grow jobs? On what planet do they try to reduce the deficit by spending even more? On what planet do they make health care better by putting bureaucrats in charge?”
The rest was vintage Pawlenty, in fact it’s safe to say this was his stump speech. It borrowed heavily from Pawlenty’s National Press Club speech last month that kicked off his book tour, in which he painted himself as a business evangelist willing to both speak loudly and carry a big stick in foreign affairs.
“Bullies respect strength, not weakness,” Pawlenty said. “So when the United States of America projects its national security interests here and around the world, we need to do it with strength! We need to make sure that there is no equivocation, no uncertainty, no daylight between us and our allies around the world.”
And then, in the first remarks of any major presidential aspirant that came close to mentioning Egypt: “The current administration doesn’t seem to understand this principle. We undermine Israel, the U.K., Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia, among other friends. Meanwhile, we appease Iran, Russia, and adversaries in the Middle East, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Mr. President, with bullies, might makes right. Strength makes them submit. Get tough on our enemies — not on our friends. And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country.”
Those remarks were striking, compared with the following major speaker: Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who summed up his international prescription, saying, “We need to do a lot less, a lot sooner, not only in Egypt, but around the world.”
Given that every television news channel was tuned to reports out of Cairo today, the lasting legacy of Pawlenty’s speech at CPAC will be the contrast he draws on foreign policy with the current White House occupant, as he and Paul were the only ones to provide a contrast to President Obama on the dominating national issue of the day.
So in that way, perhaps Pawlenty’s timing wasn’t that unfortunate after all.