In the weeks following the 2008 election, one of the themes pushed by the up-and-coming leaders of the Republican Party — including Gov. Tim Pawlenty — was that the party needed “new ideas.” So on “Tax Day” we get the “Tea Party,” a cute and catchy idea that is anything but new. Initial signals are that the Tea Party scheduled at the Capitol today isn’t a new enough idea to include Pawlenty, since he is not on the agenda of speakers.
In Minnesota, Pawlenty is becoming a symbol of the challenges that the state party faces and these rallies are evidence that Pawlenty’s national star may have some local tarnish. Any conversation with the “free market” or libertarian crowd within Minnesota is sure to start with the qualification: “And I am no fan of Pawlenty” (BTW, they say the same about former Sen. Norm Coleman).
Fast forward a little more than two weeks and you’ll find the “Tax Cut Rally” with Jason Lewis holding court. Lewis’ rally is a modern day tradition among the anti-tax crowd in Minnesota and looks to be the more “commercial” of the two events with sponsors that include the Taxpayer’s League of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and Lewis’ local radio outlet KTLK. Again, no Pawlenty on the agenda.
This dynamic cuts a few ways. Either Pawlenty isn’t a draw or he’s not willing to put his name out there with these groups. My theory is that Pawlenty’s insiders think a surprise appearance may offer him a more rock-star like welcome. But again, with Sue Jeffers (who ran against him in 2006) organizing the Tea Party and Jason Lewis (who has been critical of the governor’s “fees”) organizing the Tax Cut rally, it would seem that Pawlenty isn’t a rock star with this crowd.
Now consider Pawlenty’s day job: being a leader of Minnesota and providing some solutions for the nearly $5 billion budget crisis. It would seem that if he believes his own shtick about “no new taxes” and wanted to rally more public support, he would be front and center for these rallies. It would only help his national profile.
As for Pawlenty’s national profile, it’s another place where Pawlenty is spending more time than making sure his state party is in solid shape for either his reelection campaign or for a successor who can carry on his ideals. It would seem that if Pawlenty was truly interested in his reelection next year, he would be taking a much more active role in the selection of the next state party chair or offering new ideas for Minnesota.
Meanwhile, rumblings are trickling out that Pawlenty’s plan is to not seek reelection and that this is becoming clear to the GOP, as evidenced by an inner circle of his closest advisers building plans for a national leadership PAC for him to lead after he leaves office. Such a PAC would allow Pawlenty to position himself for 2012 or 2016, and not worry about the trivial matters of his state GOP or Minnesota’s future budget deficits. The group of possible GOP candidates for governor is also growing impatient. They would like to begin to play out their own political futures — with or without Pawlenty.
The Tea Party is cute, but the national effort being promoted by Fox News isn’t really accurate when it comes to history. Since conservatives like to quote our forefathers on their ideals on liberty and freedom, they should be reminded that the original “tea party” was about taxation without representation. (Something Minnesota DFLers have been complaining about during the Senate recount process. But it’s unimaginable that many Al Franken voters will be showing up at any of these “rallies.”)
In the end, Pawlenty’s future and his legacy are at stake. Rallying the anti-tax crowd would seem to be a no-brainer — unless, of course, he’s trying to chart his course as a new idea Republican. In which case, time is running out in the Legislature, and Minnesota could use some new ideas.