A lot of people thought 2008 was a disappointing year for Tim Pawlenty. After all, the former Minnesota governor was on the short list to join Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that year on the presidential ticket. Instead, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin captured the spotlight at the Republican National Convention, held across the street from Pawlenty’s former Minnesota state Capitol office.
Reflecting on that presidential contest, Pawlenty is back to join the national conversation, hosting a series of town halls in rural America in support of his memoir, “Courage to Stand: An American Story.”
The memoir, which transforms into a political manifesto in the later chapters, is Pawlenty’s vehicle to share his story about growing up in tough economic times in small-town America. By embracing the hard work and dedication his family instilled in him, he got through law school in his home state and began a career in public life. Through it all, he borrows heavily from a Horatio Alger narrative that resonates well with a GOP base.
Pawlenty, or “Paw” among friends, injects biblical verses and references to President Ronald Reagan throughout the book. The best narrative parts come when Pawlenty skillfully depicts his ideology: “We are not a nanny nation. Free people don’t need a nanny. We don’t need a big bureaucracy to dictate our every decision. Government in America is meant to be limited, smart, and effective. Government has an important role in our lives, but its role is not to swallow us up. Government, most importantly, needs to respond to, not direct, the will of its citizens.”
But it is not until the final chapters that he lays out his take as to why McCain chose Palin over him, and why he stood by his party. Though entertaining and witty, he tends to hold back when readers want to know what he really thought of the 2008 presidential campaign.
He concludes with an assault on the first two years of the Obama administration. “Yet, from day one, President Obama turned his back on those promises,” Pawlenty writes.
“He has racked up more debt than every President from Washington to Reagan combined … This is not change we can believe in. This is change we still can’t believe,” Pawlenty continues. “Listening to the debate in Washington, a pattern seems to be emerging: folks at the bottom of our economy get a handout, folks at the top get a bailout, and the rest of us get our wallets out. The average person is being squeezed from every direction, and the liberals in Washington appear out of answers.”
This rhetoric is significant because it resonates well with the mainstream GOP, while also appealing to an aspect of the tea party bunch — ingredients any Republican needs to end up in the White House in two years.
Pawlenty has yet to declare his presidential candidacy for 2012, but several White House aides and people on the Hill say they take Pawlenty’s push to challenge Obama seriously. In a straw poll last year, Pawlenty finished behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But Romney has problems with the GOP base that Pawlenty doesn’t have. Pawlenty’s only real challenge right now is not having enough national notoriety.
And he’s doing something about that. In a recent appearance at the National Press Club, he reminded an audience of about 100 that he was a Reaganite and tough on national security (“I’m no chump,” he said). It was obvious that he was positioning himself as a frontrunner in what it is expected to be a packed GOP primary.