Gov. Pawlenty took his aborning presidential quest to the deep-thinking Aspen Ideas Festival over the holiday weekend and attracted very little attention. Wash. Post political blogger Chris Cillizza didn’t even mention Pawlenty as one of the winners (or losers) from the Sarah Palin weird-out, although I would say Pawlenty definitely benefits (as he also benefitted from Mark Sanford’s political death).
Pawlenty is increasingly positioned as a potential Repub prez candidate who is at least acceptable to all the wings of the party base, without having a major biographical or reputational blot that he needs to overcome. (I know that liberals think his record as governor is a reputational blot, but I’m talking about as viewed by the conservative/Republican electorate.) His major weaknesses, starting out, are national name ID and national fund-raising network.
Anyway, for my money, he is a top-five candidate for the 2012 Repub nomination but he is flying mostly below the radar screen for the time being. And that seems to be fine with him. Here’s audio of what the governor said as Aspen, via MPR. Also, a site maintained by the Aspen Festival contains six quotes attributed to the governor in which he appears to continue his recent pattern of coming across as down-home, likeable, churchy but not too churchy, favoring conservative ideas but not specific ideas that he wants to talk about just yet, and a contrast to unnamed others who hurt the Republican Party because they come across as angry and extreme.
Here are the quotes (they are full text as provided by that Aspen website):
- “Regardless of whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Green, there’s a certain amount of human frailty. All of us should be hesitant to be self-righteous.”
- “I tend to be more in the McCain camp than in the nuanced camp.”
- “The Republican Party needs to be more optimistic, positive, and hopeful. Nobody wants to follow cranks.”
- “The Republican Party on the whole will remain a conservative party. But we need to do a better job of explaining why those values matter.”
- “When you’ve got Hillary Clinton on rhetorical bended knee begging China to pay for our debt, that should tell you something.”
- “When you watch cable news shows, you don’t need the voice and the message of the Republican Party to come from some ticked off guy.”
Late morning update: I have to confess, when i wrote this post this a.m., I wasn’t aware that MPR had broadcast the whole Aspen appearance. When we found that out, we quickly added a link and now I’ve just spent the last hour listening to the interview. I stand by everything I said above and here are some more reactions based on the whole feed:
Former congressman Mickey Edwards, a very smart, deep conservative, asked the questions and did a great job. He tried just assuming that Pawlenty was auditioning for president. After a while, he tried just begging Pawlenty to announce that he wanted to be president. Pawlenty didn’t take the bait. On the fourth of fifth round, Pawlenty said: “To run for president, you have to be famous, wealthy or have novelty and I have none of that.”
Pawlenty is very, very buttery smooth. He is skillful at weaving long answers that don’t sound evasive of the question but leave lilttle to argue about. He refuses to be taken where he doesn’t want to go, which is into a lot of specifics. I suppose this also contributes to a lack of charisma, although he has that likeable, authentic thing going pretty much all the time.
Then just when I thought he was going to spend a whole hour without committing himself to any specific ideas, he went quite deep on education, then on energy. Even on those, just sounded smart at a detailed level but left very little that any but a very committed liberal could really take issue with.
Edwards asked him about his general philosophy of whether government is the problem or the solution. Pawlenty: “Government should be limited and effective.” (Details to come.) Edwards pushed Pawlenty to identify his key issue. “Educational accountability.”
The tone thing: One of Pawlenty’s favorite topics and one that shows his advantages over sharper edged Repubs. Pawlenty on what he learned from Ronald Reagan: “Be hopeful and optimisitic and poisitive and civil.”
McCain: I was struck by how often Pawlenty cited McCain as having the right approach. Republicans who bolted the party in 2008 to protest against Bush for things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib missed the boat because McCain already stood against torture and favored closing Guantanamo.
During the Dem convention in Denver last year, Pawlenty had good reason to believe that he was just hours away from being on the McCain ticket. Then he was sent home from Denver (or left in anger after learning that Sarah Palin won the veepstakes) and has, with very few exceptions, maintained a good soldier, deep public loyalty to McCain and everything for which McCain stood.
On foreign/military policy, Pawlenty clung close to McCainism, and associated himself, quite gently actually, with those who think Obama should have used tougher rhetoric about the Iranian elections and other international issues. Pawlenty has a certain Palin problem, being a governor, of lack of accomplishments in this area. He does talk about the foreign trips he’s made to visit the Minnesota guardsmen and all, but has a way of mentioning it that is harder to ridicule than Palin’s you-can-see-Russia-from-Alaska version.
On Bush, Pawlenty said historians will view him more kindly than we do now, but he didn’t find much to praise other than no-more-attacks-after-9/11 and Pawlenty said Bush betrayed core Republican values with big spending programs that ran up the deficit.
Pawlenty even used the word “hypocrisy” to describe Bush’s fiscal record, with the slightly safe cop-out intro: “some would say hypocrisy.” But then the strong principled statement: “If we are going to be a party of spending restraint, and spending discipline… we have to match up our words with some deeds.”
It does seem that running, in general, against the growth of government spending, may be a key for TPaw. Not that all Republicans won’t have the same position, but it matches his record and he has a boatload of statistics memorized to make the case that government growth can’t go on forever. He generally avoids attack dog mode when trying to establish his complaints about Obamaism. But not on the spending issue. Pawlenty at Aspen:
“We are going to have the federal government equivalent of the mortgage meltdown within the next 25 years… You cannot defy indefinitely the fiscal laws of gravity.”