The most important speech at the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference, held in early March at a Washington hotel, didn’t come from any of the Republicans running for president. It came from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of the few Republican success stories in 2006–he was reelected with 47 percent of the vote–and a rising star in a party that’s been knocked back on its heels. ~Matthew Continetti, The Weekly Standard
Pawlenty is an interesting figure politically (and probably precisely the sort of non-Tommy Thompson Midwestern Republican governor who ought to be running for President instead of, say, Tommy Thompson), but I would qualify this statement about him. Yes, Pawlenty was one of the few success stories for Republicans, but what’s important to remember is that Pawlenty himself has been extremely popular in Minnesota and still only managed to pull 47%. (Mike DeWine in Ohio suffered from the same strange dichotomy of being widely admired in Ohio, but going down to ignominious defeat because of his partisan affiliation.) There was a time late in the election last year when Pawlenty’s re-election, which was supposed to be a cinch, was very much in doubt, and the mismanagement of resources by RGA head Mitt Romney didn’t make Pawlenty’s life any easier. Pawlenty’s case suggests that the 2008 battle will be fought primarily in the Midwest, since this is the region where the GOP is still hemorrhaging, it is the region that they desperately need to win back and it is one where they do have some resources with which to win it back. Rebuilding in the Northeast will take longer and the Mountain West is both less crucial and less contested.
But what are Pawlenty’s proposals? Well, he sounds a little bit like Brownback and a little bit like Reihan (no surprise, then, that the subtitle of the article is “Meet the first Sam’s Club Republican” and Pawlenty was among the first to invoke Sam’s Club as a symbol of what some might call “lower-middle” political interests):
And before you knew it Pawlenty took off, arguing for reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and Mexico, for increased government subsidies for alternative energy, for more health insurance coverage, and for using government to cater to the needs of down-scale voters. At times the crowd was confused; at other times it seemed annoyed.
Here’s the interesting bit: Pawlenty thought that the purpose of speaking at a gathering of conservatives was to make them think. It may be that every one of his policy proposals has no appeal for Republican voters, and it may be that these are all bad policies, but anything that might shake conservatives and the GOP out of their somnolescent stupour has to get at least a little credit.