Stories by Bryce McNitt

Bryce McNitt has been writing since 2007, when he blogged about his bicycle tour from Minnesota to Mississippi. He has since blogged on foreign affairs, GOP politics, and American culture, for multiple websites, and has been blogging at FrumForum since 2010. Bryce recently graduated from The George Washington University with a Master of Public Policy. The opinions expressed in his blogs are solely his own.

What Have They Done to Tim Pawlenty?

March 23rd, 2010 at 1:06 am 43 Comments

Could Pawlenty’s remarks last night to a room full of AIPAC activists mark the beginning of a conservative departure from the Reagan foreign policy paradigm?

At first glance this would seem preposterous.  Pawlenty alludes repeatedly to Reagan’s combination of pressure and engagement, prescription and explicitly defines regimes and dictators who are enemies of freedom and democracy.  In this sense there is no deviation.  However, site Pawlenty briefly expounds upon the way in which the U.S.’s budgetary woes are infringing upon our freedom of action:

But we should also realize that now more than ever, treatment our national security is imperiled by America’s out of control spending. We do not have much leverage over places that prop up our economy by buying our debt.  These issues are related and we must as a nation face these difficult facts.

Difficult indeed.  These comments signal a major departure from Reagan-era policy that relied on running major budget deficits, in the shape of military spending, to apply the “pressure” side of the U.S.’s relationship with the Soviet Union.   Pawlenty touched upon the fact that America cannot for much longer rely on deficit spending (of any kind) and still secure its foreign policy objectives, indeed it already must be wary of biting the hand that feeds it.  Pawlenty’s platform then seems to recognize the passing of the paradigm that brought us the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was employed during the second Bush administration (think Cheney’s claim that “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.”), and alludes to a new era that will focus on fiscal responsibility as the means by which to achieve national security initiatives.

Moving forward Pawlenty’s platform may look like this:  fiscal responsibility in the form of budget balancing amendments and policies as the foundation on which to build domestic reform initiatives and ensure freedom of action on national security objectives.  Conservatives, for some thirty years now have not adhered in any way to the second part of this paradigm, and even diverged from the former part during the last GOP administration.  This type of platform is a recognition of the revolution currently underway in the conservative movement, where ground zero for protecting freedom and democracy is now centered within our own borders.  In practice, such a platform would see American power shrink in the short term as it tackled the looming entitlement crisis, and then recover as it gained the ability to self-finance its military and other security objectives.

This new paradigm has yet to be explicitly defined, and perhaps Pawlenty himself is not entirely aware of the magnitude of the divergence he is alluding to here.  But it is increasingly clear that the methods of the Reagan era, the actual mechanics of it, will no longer yield satisfactory returns.  The question now is if conservatives will accept a new direction that reconciles their desire for a strong U.S. foreign policy with strong fiscal responsibility, two goals that have been and for now continue to be wildly divergent.  If they are willing, the result will be the most significant rethinking of foreign policy by the GOP in some 40 years.

Daniels’ Campaign Strategy: Refuse to Run

February 24th, 2010 at 5:26 pm 3 Comments

Mitch Daniels easily has the most impressive 2012 campaign strategy of any contender in the field.  It’s simple:  REFUSE TO RUN.  When that’s not enough for your admirers, thumb employees, ambulance and former employers, and you’re tired of all their pestering:  reluctantly agree to possibly run if there is still time once you’re done with what you’re working on right now, but “just to get them off [your] back”.  What next?  Grudgingly accept the GOP nomination?  Begin 2013 inauguration speech with “Well, I tried my hardest not to do this, but no one would let it be so…”?

All humor aside, Daniels’ latest budge toward a 2012 bid belies more than a healthy distaste for jumping into the ring before he’s good and ready.  It may speak to conservative and GOP dissatisfaction with the current field of candidates.  In January Daniels took fifth in a GOP insider poll of possible 2012 contenders, and even mustered a couple of percentage points in the CPAC staw poll – all while firmly sticking to his NO WAY strategy, and with minimal media exposure.  The continued prodding by the likes of George W. Bush (which Daniels wisely downplayed) and the fantasizing by George Will of a Daniels/Ryan White House speaks to the fact that many feel Daniels is the best man to actually produce effective, conservative, results for the country.

Daniels, should he choose to make a move at some point in the future, stands on good ground.  He is admired by party insiders, conservative intellectuals, and even hard-line activists like RedState’s Erick Erickson.  With such a firm foot on the base, and a record of impressive results as Governor of Indiana, he could be in a position to make a national push without worrying about trouble on the right.  If he does make a move it probably won’t be until after November, or at least that’s what he says.  Then again, if people keep bugging him he might have to act sooner, just to get them off his back.


Pawlenty Pushes Health Reform

February 16th, 2010 at 11:05 pm Comments Off

Pawlenty, there in the last week, cialis has begun rapidly diversifying his message.  In his Friday Esquire interview he set the record straight on why the GOP crumbled after 2004 (I guess it wasn’t ACORN’s doing after all), sale revealed his personal story and how he found his politics through it, and showed that he put the breaks on Minnesota’s big spending ways.  Now, with his Sunday Washington Post op-ed, and last night’s appearance on Greta Van Susteren’s show, Pawlenty is answering Obama’s call for Republican ideas to be brought to the February 25th bipartisan healthcare summit.

The op-ed lists five ideas for bringing down healthcare costs, which for Pawlenty is the real menace behind the shortage of coverage in the nation.  These ideas will all sound familiar to conservatives, they’ve been kicked around for a long time now – but perhaps what sets Pawlenty’s retelling apart is that he’s already put some of them into action in Minnesota.  For instance, he has created cost incentives for state employee health coverage, and seen them work.  If insured state employees want to go to high cost, mediocre quality clinics they will have to pay more, and if they want to go to efficient, quality clinics they will pay less.  In the past five years state employee premiums have been more or less frozen.

These sorts of accomplishments are some of Pawlenty’s biggest assets moving forward.  Another example: his ability to slow biannual state spending increases to 4%, down from the 21% of the preceding 42 years, speaks directly to the anxieties of many Americans – and, to turn an old phrase, has saved Minnesota from looking like California.  His move to finally start speaking about some of these things on sizeable platforms will broaden his appeal to conservatives and moderates alike.

Will this be his strategy moving forward?  To promote his sensible and effective record and personal story on one hand, and trumpet a balanced budget amendment that can never come to fruition but will satisfy the angry parts of the base?  If so it may be the strongest compromise a prospective 2012 GOP candidate can make between promoting realistic reform and appeasing the irrational desires that, in a democracy, cannot be ignored.

Pawlenty Takes Aim at the GOP

February 14th, 2010 at 10:48 pm 14 Comments

Oh, the Republicans had their shot not long ago to address the real needs and concerns of everyday Americans, and they blew it. I think that’s mitigated by the fact that we had a terrorist incident, there is a war, and there was a lot of proper focus on those issues, but over the time that they were there and had the leadership opportunity, they blew it. We got fired for a reason.

–Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty has come out guns blazing in a new interview with Esquire.  Temporarily shelving his talk of Ponzi-schemes and balanced budget amendments Pawlenty instead focused on talking about himself, his experience in Minnesota, and making an honest – and very critical – assessment of his own party.

When asked what went wrong with the GOP, Pawlenty was candid, “they didn’t do what they said they were gonna  do” he remarked.  Pawlenty framed politics in market terms, asserting that the GOP didn’t produce the product that consumers wanted, so they purchased products from their competitors.  He even went on to observe that, although Republicans have made significant gains in recent special elections those who voted for Obama are “not necessarily back to supporting Republicans, but they’re available for us to persuade, and that’s a huge opportunity. Our opportunities for 2010 are tremendous.”

Perhaps more significant was, finally, Pawlenty discussing himself.  Who he is.  What circumstances he came from.  How he came to identify with his politics.  These details have been entirely absent in his previous forays, which featured tough sounding rhetoric that often fell flat and sounded unconvincing.  Pawlenty tied his experience as a blue collar suburban youth to his understanding of what people want and how to govern those wants in a sensible way.

This is probably Pawlenty’s best national showing to date.  He has finally taken a tough, independent – I will avoid the word “rogue” – stance inside of his own party, distancing himself from the failed ‘have your cake and eat it too’ record from the past administration.  He has also done this without going to his bread and butter slogans from the past several months.  Can we expect him to drop these slogans and bolt in this new direction?  Probably not, but if he can begin to maximize this kind of exposure, he will at least provide vital substance to those just learning about him, when they come to take a closer look.

What’s Driving Pawlenty’s Fundraising Surge?

February 2nd, 2010 at 4:31 pm Comments Off

Is Tim Pawlenty’s budget amendment crusade reaping dividends?  Pawlenty has recently made a slew of appearances on Fox News, remedy and written several op-eds (including yesterday in Politico) touting his new idea.  The painfully obvious shortcomings of this idea have been discussed at length here, recipe and have slowly picked up more criticism – yesterday from Bruce Bartlett at Capital Gains and Games, and seconding Bruce, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic.

Yet, whether he is ready for primetime or not, he is making some serious moves in the fundraising arena.  Pawlenty raised $1.28 million in just the last three months of 2009, compared to Romney’s $1.6 million and Palin’s $1.4 million in the last six months of last year – that’s about double the pace.  This impressive showing prompted RedState to pronounce him “hands down, the frontrunner” in the cash game leading up to the nomination.

This respectable trend begs the question, is it the budget amendment crusade that is driving all of this?  There are several scenarios to consider:

1.  Pawlenty, of all the 2012 hopefuls, has by far focused most heavily on the budget.  By doing this he has tapped into growing conservative and independent disdain for a big-spending, big-deficit progressive agenda that has not been able to wrestle down unemployment, or spur serious economic growth.  Pawlenty was most recently vindicated on this point when Obama buckled to budget trepidations in his SOTU.  In this scenario it is simply the diagnosis of the disease that has garnered him support, and not the medicine.

2.  Pawlenty’s focus on amending the constitution has inspired his recent surge in support.  In this scenario it is belief in the medicine that is pushing things along.

3.  Pawlenty’s support has little to do with his current stumping.  It is instead grounded in his clean and respectable record as governor of a left-of-center state, and the perception that he could bridge the gap between conservatives and independents and lead the GOP back into the White House.

Probably there are elements of all three in Pawlenty’s recent surge, but he could be in trouble if there is genuine support for his amendment proposal, or if it develops down the road.  If supporters are touting his new medicine it is only a matter of time before they read the warning labels and realize it will never pass muster.  The more cemented Pawlenty becomes to this sort of proposal the higher his risks in the future.  Even if a dramatic proposal such as this gains him populist credibility and helps his coffers in the short term, he must preserve the ability to be versatile in the future and talk real sense to the nation as a whole.

Pawlenty Keeps Pushing Constitutional Amendment

January 27th, 2010 at 6:35 pm 2 Comments

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6TS64WAWO8

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty must have felt a sense of vindication last night on Fox News when, mentioning his op-ed in the Daily Caller, he was asked about President Obama’s proposal for a three year budget freeze.  Obama’s proposal would affect non-security discretionary spending beginning with the 2011 budget, which would be higher than that of 2010, but then remain frozen until the end of 2013.

Pawlenty’s reaction?

“It’s kind of like somebody eating three Big Macs and then deciding they are going to control their weight by ordering a Diet Coke.”

First, that’s a pretty good line.  Pawlenty could use more lines like this; it might ameliorate his “boring” problem.

Second, he’s right.  Freezing non-defense discretionary spending, which the CBO projected to grow by $35 billion in the next five years, will accomplish almost nothing meaningful, especially in the wake of bank bailouts and a stimulus package recently estimated to total $826 billion.  Federal tax rates are currently at a 60-year low, while spending is at a 60-year high and still climbing.  To tackle the budget deficit in any meaningful sense, something has to give – something more significant than freezing a small part of the skyrocketing federal spending.

Pawlenty then, true to form, pressed forward, asserting that what we need is not to freeze spending; we need to cut it, and then pass a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution.  I’m still highly skeptical that his constitutional amendment idea is going to pay the political dividends he must be banking on; that point aside, Pawlenty is on the right turf here.  He is not afraid to talk about the real 900-pound-gorilla in the room, the $65 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities, which if not dealt with – soon – will sink our fiscal ship.

Public anxiety about budget deficits will continue to grow, perhaps even more rapidly, when unemployment begins to subside and families are less concerned about making ends meet.  If things play out this way, Pawlenty will be in a good spot; however, my hope is that he has something more realistic than a constitutional amendment to offer when the time comes.

Jumping on the Brown Bandwagon

January 21st, 2010 at 8:00 am 2 Comments

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6Sm4ROKgus


On Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC homepage you’ll find first a banner congratulating Scott Brown on his momentous win last night.  It then fades into a second banner that encourages you to sign a petition for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.  T-Paw and every other 2012 and 2010 candidate will try to get in front of the Scott Brown parade, malady but it seems that Pawlenty may have missed what the parade is about.

Brown won because he was able to touch upon independent and Republican distaste for Obama’s healthcare reform, drugstore and show that Democrats were already out of touch with the national mood on issues like stimulus spending and bailouts.  But Pawlenty’s response to Brown’s victory is something like this:  “Great job Brown you proved that America doesn’t want an expansive and meddlesome central government… now let’s change the Constitution!

Wait, what?  If Brown is capitalizing on America’s, even deep blue state America’s, distrust of government playing too heavy a hand, what logic connects that success with amending the Constitution for a balanced budget– which would send shockwaves through the economy and potentially relegate the toughest budgeting decisions to the Supreme Court.  America needs reform, the GOP must champion it, but it can’t look like this.  If Pawlenty wants to jump in front of the parade, it might pay to first think about how it got moving.

Coleman Opts Out of Minnesota Gov Race

January 19th, 2010 at 2:00 pm 1 Comment

Former Senator Norm Coleman has announced, sale on his Facebook page, no rx that he will not run for governor of Minnesota this year.  In his statement, online Coleman noted that “this is not the right time for me and my family to conduct a campaign for Governor.”

As recently as last Friday, Minnesota news sources were asserting that it was all but a done deal that Coleman would run and easily take the nomination for the GOP.  His exit leaves four potential GOP contenders remaining, none of which have strong statewide name recognition, much less national name recognition.  House Minority leader Marty Seifert and Rep. Tom Emmer are now considered the top contenders for the spot.

What now?  The GOP is left with a weakened and mostly unknown field of candidates while the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party still has a field of at least ten candidates, including former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback.  Perhaps Coleman’s exit will prove a boon for the Minnesota GOP in the long run, not so much because he was unloved by state conservative voters, but because he is still thoroughly despised by liberals after the acrimonious senate recount last year.

Coleman for Gov?

January 16th, 2010 at 9:46 am 6 Comments

It is now widely reported in the Minnesota press that former Senator Norm Coleman will run for Gov. Pawlenty’s soon to be vacated seat in 2010.  The most telling sign, reports Minnesota Public Radio, is former state auditor Pat Anderson’s withdrawal from the race just a day after talking to Coleman.  Coleman will bring big name status to the race, less than a year after conceding to Al Franken in one of the lengthiest electoral recounts in recent history.  MPR reports that

Coleman automatically becomes the favorite to win the Republican nomination and enters the general election with 1,211,590 votes, the number he picked up in his race for U.S. Senate against Al Franken. The bitterness escalated during the protracted recount with Franken, but it’s unlikely Coleman supporters defected to the DFL side because of it.

Keep that vote number in mind because it’s almost 200,000 more than Tim Pawlenty got in 2008, and 300,000 more than Pawlenty got in 2002. In both cases, the Independence Party (previously the Reform Party) fielded a strong candidate. That isn’t the case this year. It’s also true, of course, that those Independent votes don’t automatically go to a Republican.

The question is if Coleman has worn out his welcome in Minnesota.  He has lost two out of his last three major campaigns there (to Gov. Jesse Ventura and Sen. Al Franken), and the recent recount was an exhausting experience for the state.    Ultimately, fortune may be on his side.  2010 promises to be a strong year for Republicans of all stripes.  Coleman’s name recognition and fundraising prowess alone (he accompanied Pawlenty to Texas this week), combined with the national backlash against Democrats may be enough to push him through to victory.  Can the GOP hold the governorship for three consecutive terms in a progressive swing state?  Coleman may be our best shot.

Pawlenty’s Budget Amendment Misstep

January 14th, 2010 at 9:07 am 3 Comments

It’s been a couple of months since Pawlenty began pitching his new balanced budget constitutional amendment idea. It is finally making a stir, although it may not be the kind he wants.  Pawlenty wrote a piece regarding the long-term federal deficit for the debut of the Daily Caller on Jan. 11th, which was promptly ripped by Stan Collender of Capital Gains and Games, and subsequently ripped again by Mathew Yglesias of Think Progress.  Both accused Pawlenty of “not being ready for prime time” when it came to budget issues, and took him to task over details of the piece.

Collander focuses his critique on the following line, pointing out that Pawlenty’s focus on discretionary spending ignores the real problem.

Pawlenty wrote:

Balancing the budget will require some tough decisions. Congress must reduce discretionary spending in real terms, with exceptions for key programs such as military, veterans, and public safety. The Congress must also reject costly new spending initiatives, like new health care entitlements.

To which Collender responded:

Someone needs to tell Pawlenty that discretionary spending except for “military, veterans, and public safety” is less than $400 billion a year.  A real reduction of, say 10 percent (a ridiculous amount but use it for simplicity sake) would save a little more than $40 billion from the baseline and that doesn’t come close to doing what needs to be done.

In addition, rejecting “costly new spending initiatives” isn’t the same as paying for the old ones, like Medicare and Medicaid, that are the real budget problems.

Yglesias concurs with Collender, concluding that if you don’t want to talk about raising taxes and slowing the growth of Medicare, you shouldn’t be talking about the budget.

Point taken.  Yet Collender and Yglesias don’t address the implied results of Pawlenty’s proposal.  A balanced budget amendment essentially returns the government to a pre-New Deal pay-as-you-go system, except in times of emergency.  Thus, a balanced budget amendment would restrict spending on entitlement programs to a certain percentage of federal outlays, meaning that the programs would shrink drastically, and would fluctuate significantly year by year.

This is what Pawlenty is actually pitching, without actually talking about it. This is the real danger of moving forward with such a proposal for a slogan.  Rapidly fluctuating entitlement spending could send regular shockwaves through the national economy, creating chaos and potentially prompting erratic short term tax measures.  Will Pawlenty defend this proposal as viable when he gets stuck in front of a camera and finally has to answer to it?  Even if this is just political positioning, is it really the best means of impressing Club for Growth type fiscal conservatives?

Pawlenty has better options than this.   He has an all-star budget record during two terms as Governor of Minnesota.  He has certainly used sophisticated solutions to solve complex problems in the past, why abandon that now?