WASHINGTON, D.C. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty, speaking to a cheering crowd of college Republicans in Washington tonight, demurred on questions about a widely speculated run for the presidency in 2012, but did say that he felt he had something valuable to add to the party.
“I haven’t ruled anything out, or anything in,” Pawlenty told reporters before his speech. “I don’t know what the future holds for me. But I do think that I have some things that are worth sharing [with] the party, and so I am going to try, as a volunteer, to go out and do that once in a while. But in terms of turning that into a campaign, I don’t have any future plans about that, but I am going to help on the issue side and the policy side and do my part to get this party back on track.”
In his speech to the gathered young Republicans, who welcomed him with a standing ovation and “T-Paw” chants, Pawlenty attempted to lay out some of those issues and a strategy for taking back the majority — a plan, he said, that essentially hinges on cementing the GOP as the party of individual freedom, optimism, diversity and the middle class.
“Ever hear that the Republicans are not for the working person?” Pawlenty asked. “Ever hear that? Well you will. If you want to reconnect with friends and neighbors… we have to be able to speak to the bread-and-butter issues.”
Those issues, according to Pawlenty, include merit pay for teachers, a balanced federal budget, a health care system that is not government run and a greater emphasis on international security.
According to Pawlenty, the Reagan Democrats are now the Sam’s Club Republicans, and vital to the GOP’s rebirth.
“We are the market place party, we pride ourselves on looking at the market place as a measure of how things are going… and the market place in 2006 and 2008 has been sending us messages,” Pawlenty said. “And the market place is saying, at least for now, in too many parts of the country, in too many races, our customers — the voters — prefer the products and services of our competitors. And when you lose market share to the degree we have and have those kinds of results, it’s important for us as a group, as a party, as a team, to step back and talk a little bit about how we can do better.”
In what one college Republican later deemed a “typical stump speech,” Pawlenty emphasized that a large part of doing better comes down to tone.
“You look back to Ronald Reagan,” Pawlenty said. “He was a positive, optimistic, and hopeful leader. People want to follow someone who is positive and optimistic.”
And image: “I want to challenge you in your chapter back home… to think purposefully about elevating and recruiting women leaders, more leaders with diverse backgrounds,” Pawlenty said to the overwhelmingly white audience. “The value of that is that the messenger sort of matters. It does matter.”
‘Suffocating, strangling government’
Although Pawlenty focused on weaknesses that Republicans must address, he also offered the group a vision of how things may swing back their way.
“We will have a federal government that is so pervasive in our lives… that it begins to suffocate that spirit of liberty, individual responsibility and freedom,” Pawlenty said of the Obama administration’s current course.
Pawlenty predicted that as the deficit balloons and government programs grow, public opinion will realign with Republicans as the party for individual freedom and responsibility and against a “suffocating, strangling government.”
In the course of trying to adapt, however, Pawlenty emphasized that the party’s core conservative principals should remain the same.
“[It] doesn’t mean we have to behave like Democrats,” Pawlenty concluded.
“It is about getting Democrats to become Republicans.”
It’s a goal that will become all the more vital to the Minnesota Republican if he decides to take his show on the road to the White House in 2012.
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.