Pawlenty certainly walked into this attack:
Today Bachmann fired back. “Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government,” she said in a statement. “Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, ‘The era of small government is over… the government has to be more proactive and more aggressive.’ That’s the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan,” Bachmann added.
Bachmann criticized Pawlenty for “praising” the individual health care mandate and TARP, supporting cap-and-trade, and “leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” Bachmann said, pointing that she had “fought against irresponsible spending … [and] cap-and-trade,” and on TARP, had “worked tirelessly against it and voted against it.”
This is just what I assumed Bachmann would say against Pawlenty:
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bachmann turns Pawlenty’s accomplishment attack around on him as Obama turned the experience criticism around on Clinton and McCain. Obama insisted that experience wasn’t what mattered; it was judgment that mattered, and both Clinton and McCain had judged poorly on Iraq. Bachmann might start saying, “It isn’t enough to get things done if they’re the wrong things or if they’re not done well,” and then she can rehash Pawlenty’s record of quick-fix budgets and talk up Minnesota’s current budget problems. Bachmann’s list of things that she has “fought” also draws attention to all of the things that Pawlenty has tried to disavow since he started organizing his campaign: she voted against the TARP and cap-and-trade, and Pawlenty conspicuously favored both at one time.
Pawlenty’s campaign is reduced to complaining that Bachmann has relied on “incorrect” opposition research, but the problem for Pawlenty is that what she said about his record is basically true. He did approve of the idea of an individual mandate (and declared Romney to be an “outstanding” governor at the same time). What Pawlenty said was that an individual mandate is “potentially helpful, but not an answer by itself.” It may be a stretch to call that praise, but at one time he considered it a useful mechanism. This is not someone who can credibly denounce Romney for the very “potentially helpful” thing that Pawlenty once thought was worthwhile. If Minnesota’s current deficit woes are not entirely Pawlenty’s fault, it is fair to say that his fiscal policies did not avert them. We know the claims are true because he has been actively running away from some of the very things that Bachmann mentioned. He has been hoping to immunize himself against this attack through preemptive pandering.
It was not very long ago that Pawlenty was trying to build up his reputation as a proponent of activist government on domestic policy. This was not a secret, and he made no effort to conceal it. He was supposed to represent “a little something new.” Matt Continetti profiled Pawlenty as “the first Sam’s Club Republican” in 2007:
Back then his embrace of his state and regional populist tradition was a curiosity, a political epiphenomenon lost in a national sea of regnant Bush Republicanism. Today Bush Republicanism is on its way out. The most successful GOP governors–Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Rick Perry in Texas, Charlie Crist in Florida, and former governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts–like their conservatism à la carte. They emphasize certain conservative policies–low taxes most of all–but dismiss others. Meanwhile, in Washington policy circles, wonks and flacks are busy sketching out an alternative Republican agenda that combines social conservatism with an active government tailoring economic policies to help working families.
It was probably his willingness to present himself as a big-government conservative that allowed him to be competitive at the state level in Minnesota. If that’s right, it is hard to take Pawlenty seriously when he implies that his weak election victories in three-way races in a blue state prove that he is the right candidate to run against Obama.
Pawlenty launched his campaign as a bold “truth-teller” who was going to challenge entrenched interests, and he started by attacking ethanol subsidies in Iowa. That may be bold, but it’s also not very consistent with how he governed in Minnesota. Four years ago, Pawlenty the “truth-teller” couldn’t say enough about his promotion of state support for alternative energy:
He talks with rare interest about biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol and wind power. “Under my watch we’ve doubled the proposed requirements for ethanol in gasoline here,” he says. “We implemented the first in the nation biodiesel requirement in our diesel fuel, 2 percent soy oil. We’re one of the nation’s leaders in wind energy production. And it’s largely part of some tax credits we put into law on my watch as governor.”
For some reason, Pawlenty doesn’t seem as interested in these things anymore. Of course, Pawlenty is allowed to change his mind on one or all of these issues, but he shouldn’t be allowed to mislead voters into believing that his cap-and-trade position was his only self-proclaimed “clunker.” His positions on a range of issues have changed in just the last few years. It’s understandable that Pawlenty wants to pander to conservative voters now that he is running for the nomination, but everyone should realize that this is what he is doing. When he is running on his record of executive competence, he should be expected to account for all of that record. In 2007, Pawlenty had confidence that he could bring others to see the value of some of his unconventional views:
So I tried to–and I enjoy trying to–at least appropriately and gently and constructively try to get people to think a little bit. And so I don’t want to go, you know, in your face, but at least be . . . constructively provocative, and maybe get some of them to have a light go on and say, ‘Well, maybe that’s worth thinking about.’
No one today is accusing Pawlenty of trying to get anyone to think. That is a problem for Pawlenty for obvious reasons. It is also a worrisome sign that the alternatives for the GOP are intellectual stagnation on the one hand and veering off into misguided government activism on the other.