MANCHESTER, N.H. — In a recent profile on him, Esquire magazine summed up what has become a nagging narrative: “Tim Pawlenty has a problem: He’s just too nice.”
On Thursday night came the rebuttal. Sure, much of it had been said before, either in clips or in stem-winding orations, but here it was laid out crisp, concise and — best of all for the man who would be president — impactful on a crowd of people he’ll need to count on if he’s to be successful in whatever his as-yet-unannounced future endeavors might be.
A day after the U.S. Senate voted twice to not have a plan to cut either $6 billion or $60 billion from the federal budget (that carries with it a deficit of $1.6 trillion), Pawlenty flatly talked of cuts not dared to be touched in either plan — trimming entitlement spending to help solve the budget deficit.
Then, in the course of his usual statements about projecting strength to bullies abroad, Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration for what he called their “incoherent response” to uprisings in the Middle East, while saying the United States should firmly back rebel forces in Libya.
The reception was hosted by prominent lawyer and former Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne’s Granite Oath PAC in his expansive Colonial-style house here. About 150 attendees were expected, and while a firm count was difficult, the place looked packed.
Many of them had seen Pawlenty before. Mike Castaldo, a self-described “lifelong Republican” from Dover, repeated a joke popularized by John McCain: “I want to hear what he has to say — I’ve only met him three or four times.”
And for the most part, Castaldo heard again what he’d heard before. This was for the most part his standard stump speech, though more economically driven than the one he gave earlier this week to the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa. Whereas in Iowa, the emphasis was on family values, with economics in there too, this was almost the exact reverse.
Pawlenty didn’t lead with Libya, but when asked about the international news of the day, Pawlenty let rip.
“On Libya, we have a confirmed terrorist, a psychopath, somebody who has killed Americans and has American blood on his hands,” Pawlenty said, referring to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Most of the 270 dead were Americans.
“I think if there is a plausible way to implement a no-fly zone, we should. If there is a plausible way to help those who are trying to take out Moammar Gadhafi, we should. The president, he’s thinking about it and thinking about it, but I would be more forward-leaning.
And on Egypt, Pawlenty charged that the White House not only was inconsistent in its reaction, but hadn’t taken the trouble to game plan for an inevitable power shift.
“[President Hosni] Mubarak was 82 years old, and so whether it was this revolt, this fall’s election or the health challenge he might have predictably because of his age, he wasn’t long for that position,” Pawlenty said. “So, hindsight’s 20-20, but if you look backwards, what was the plan between an 82-year-old dictator and chaos?”
On debt and the deficit, Pawlenty said again he wants a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, and opposed raising the debt ceiling. And then, he touched the third rail.
Pawlenty told them that, for new entrants to Social Security, they should see a gradual raise in the retirement age to reflect the fact that Americans are living longer. And, though he’s not a fan of means-testing in general, Pawlenty said he could support means-testing the annual cost of living increases in Social Security.
Sure, this was a favorable crowd. But Pawlenty left the event with more supporters than he had coming in — and that’s saying something in a state where voters, like in Iowa, take pride in waiting until the bitter end to decide.
“We think that he can be nice and tough at the same time,” said Nancy Kindler, who attended the house party and volunteered to host one for Pawlenty at her own house in Epping later this year.
Of course, like any good New Hampshire voter, she and her husband Warren left a little room for ambiguity.
“If you were to ask me who I’m leaning to now, I’d say Pawlenty,” Nancy Kinder said, and then Warren added, “I’m leaving it up to the rest of the field to show me why not.”