Pawlenty, in the last week, 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), 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.