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A T-Paw Party?

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a better chance than you think.

Jan 17, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 17 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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While Pawlenty’s background, executive experience in a state that borders Iowa, and record as both a fiscal and social conservative​—​he’s strongly pro-life​—​could prove to be a winning combination, he has some challenges to overcome. With his somewhat boyish looks and regular-guy demeanor, Pawlenty doesn’t seem the most likely person to command the role of chief executive. He also runs the risk of overplaying the working class shtick after his nearly 25 years as a lawyer and politician. He isn’t known to be an electrifying speaker, although he’s welcome and cheered at local Tea Parties.

Pawlenty will also have to account for some heterodox positions he took as governor. In a 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed, conservative Minnesota talk radio host Jason Lewis urged John McCain to pick someone other than Pawlenty if he wanted to appeal to conservatives. Among the heresies Lewis highlighted were Pawlenty’s environmentalism, his signing a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, and his 2006 statement that “the era of small government is over.” 

While Pawlenty stands by the smoking ban and says it’s a non-issue for most conservatives in the state, he has tacked to the right on green issues: After signing a bill to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2007, he wrote a letter opposing cap and trade in 2009. “I definitely have altered my view of that,” he acknowledges. “I looked at it carefully, thought it might be worth exploring, but have determined it’s a bad idea.”

Asked about “the era of small government is over,” Pawlenty calls it “a big misunderstanding.” He explains, “David Brooks wrote a column for the New York Times Sunday magazine, the subtitle of which was ‘The era of small government is over,’ and I quoted him in the paper.” He got the local paper to issue a clarification, insisting, “We have fought to make government smaller in a really liberal place.” Even conservative talker Jason Lewis now concedes, “It’s hard to argue with his conservatism. .  .  . I think presidential ambitions changed Pawlenty.”

While Pawlenty leaves office with a record that’s about as conservative as could be for a Minnesota governor, he has yet to present a detailed national agenda. He talks about the need to cap Medicaid spending and block-grant it to the states. He points to modest reforms in his state as a model for making Medicare more efficient. When asked about voucherizing Medicare for younger workers, he speaks favorably but in generalizations: “We need to switch these systems, whether it’s Medicare, Medicaid, education, almost anything else, to a cash bar model, not an open bar model.”

For Pawlenty, though, some of the details can wait. Right now, he’s just trying to get Republican voters to remember his name. 

John McCormack is online editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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