Tim Pawlenty appeared with Sarah Palin at a Minneapolis rally for Rep. Michelle Bachmann yesterday. A throng of conservative voters turned out, filling the entire floor of the convention center. Sean Hannity also attended the event, and concluded it with live interviews, first of former Governor Palin and Rep. Bachmann, and then Gov. Pawlenty.
Palin and Bachmann were adamant about dispelling fears about the current conservative pushback following healthcare. Palin made an effort to address the controversy over the “we’re not going to retreat, we’re going to reload” slogan, saying that people “know their arms are their votes.” The two were very enthusiastic about discussing the budgetary problems the U.S. is facing, and about demonstrating that the Tea Party movement is the new face of conservatism in this country, and that it has come about in part as a result of problems related to the budget, and the sweeping progressive reforms currently being undertaken by President Obama. Regarding those sweeping reforms, Bachmann was optimistic that Obamacare could be repealed in February 2013.
Pawlenty followed the two by discussing first his lawsuit against the new healthcare bill. After the bill was initially passed Pawlenty requested that his Attorney General, a Democrat, file suit. Pawlenty argued that the bill was unconstitutional. The Attorney General declined to file suit and she would file a brief in support of the new bill, but gave Pawlenty the green light to file suit himself. He has decided to do just that, remarking that:
We live in a country now, where the federal government is going to say to us individually. You either buy a good or a service or we’re going to fine you, and by any definition: constitutional, common sense, that’s an overreach.
Some have speculated whether Pawlenty’s joining Palin and Bachmann is a sign that he’s throwing his hat in with the Tea Partiers. This is an interesting point to consider, as it would have major implications for his image in the lead-up to 2012. Not too much should be read into this appearance however, as he is first and foremost supporting a fellow Minnesota Republican, and a very popular one, both within the state and across the nation. Still, it raises the interesting question of who will make the strongest effort to absorb the Tea Party into their voter base for the 2012 primaries? If Palin does not run there are really no obvious choices.
Pawlenty has staked out fiscally hawkish positions that would put him in good standing with Tea Partiers, proposing a balanced budget amendment (although he hasn’t been discussing it much lately), and saying that the country needs to cut taxes and grow the economy. He has also said in the past that he believes Medicare is a good program and that it should not be touched. These statements are popular with fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers. However, these two statements are also entirely irreconcilable. There is no balanced budget without entitlement reform, period. This reflects the startling paradox facing any candidate looking to tap into Tea Party votes. You can say you will give them what they want, but you can’t actually give it to them, because they don’t want it.
Pawlenty is a true budget hawk who knows the realities of the country’s problems. If a GOP leader as smart and down to earth as him has to stake out territory as untenable as what he has signaled above, then the GOP is not out of the woods yet — not even close.