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GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty on the debt crisis

Friday, July 29, 2011

HH: So pleased to welcome back former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Governor Pawlenty, you’re running into the Ames Straw Poll very soon, and you’re living in Iowa. How’s it going?

TP: You know, it’s going very well. We’re in Iowa now, in Sioux City, and glad to talk to you, Hugh, and we’re getting some nice support and momentum in Iowa, and I think we’re going to move up nicely in the rankings at the Ames Straw Poll.

HH: Now you know, I believe that if you were to simply announce I was going to be your ambassador to one of the Baltic states, you would probably get a groundswell for a time, for Ames.

TP: Is that because you’d be out of the country and people would be, you’d be off the air?

HH: I think they would just be thinking that that’s a recognition of a fine journalist-politico relationship like Jay Carney had with the President. Governor, what is the issue in Ames? I mean, they’re all conservatives. You’re all conservative. What are you making the appeal to the Iowa voter on?

TP: Well, that’s a great question, Hugh, and you know, every candidate has different strengths that they bring to the table. For me, one of the strengths is executive experience with a record of results. Obviously, we learned with Barack Obama that the speeches are entertaining, but it doesn’t get the job done. And so you need, I believe, the country is going to expect somebody who has actually run a large enterprise, with a public component to it, driven it to large results and conclusions. That’s what I did in Minnesota in a difficult environment on spending, taxes, conservative justices, health care and the like. And so I think that’s a differentiator. And of course, everybody has their own personal story, mine’s kind of an up from your bootstraps, meatpacking town story that a lot of people find interesting. And it’s not that it’s better or worse than anyone else’s, it’s just different. And as you try to connect with people not just at the head level, but the heart level, that matters.

HH: Now Michele Bachmann’s staff has been throwing some bricks at your way, and I know you don’t respond to staff and that sort of thing, but I didn’t expect that in this campaign, especially between you and the Congresswoman. Heck, I think I’ve done a half dozen events where you were both at in Minnesota.

TP: You know, I respect Congresswoman Bachmann, and you know, I’ve campaigned for her in the past. And look, we share most, if not all, the same kind of conservative positions and perspectives. I think she was irritated when I said earlier that somebody who was going to be the next president should have executive experience. And she, I think, took that the wrong way. I didn’t…I think it’s true for any candidate, whether it’s her or anyone else. I think it’s just a matter of basic common sense that the country is going to look to see whether somebody’s actually had that kind of experience before they make them president, particularly after the Obama debacle.

HH: Now Governor Pawlenty, there’s this huge debate that has been unfolding for two months now, and it’s crescendoing this weekend, no matter what the House does or doesn’t do today. It’s going to be a drama that goes well into next week. What’s your general assessment of what’s been happening in D.C?

TP: Well, I liken it to this, Hugh. If you went to the doctor because you had an elevated temperature, you know, if it was there for an hour or two, the doc might say well, just go sleep it off or come back and we’ll take a look at it. But if it goes on for days or weeks, it’s not so much about the temperature. That’s a symptom of an underlying problem. It’s more permanent and more structural. So the debt ceiling is a symptom of these long-brewing, structural problems that Barack Obama’s made exponentially worse. But they’ve been brewing for a long time. So this is one of those moments where it’s awkward, it’s difficult, but it’s time to draw the line in the sand and say if not us, who? If not now, when? We’ve got to do it now. And so the point is I really believe, I wish they wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling. But if they do, they’ve got to get some real structural, permanent solutions.

HH: Now Governor Pawlenty, during your eight years as governor, you had a lot of showdowns with a lot of different rhetorically-flourishing Democrats, you know, calling down thunder on your head. Minnesota just went through another one in which the Republicans didn’t back up, just as you didn’t back up, when you were governor. Generally, have you taken from that experience that Republicans ought not to blink in situations like this?

TP: Well, I was the first governor in the 150 year history in Minnesota to shut down the government over tax and spending issues. I set a record for vetoes, single season, I think one of the top in the history as well, and also uses executive power to take more spending out of the budget in my eight years as governor than all the other 142 years’ worth of governors combined. And so I’ve done my share and more of what needs to be done to cut spending. And what I learned from that, Hugh, is a number of things, but one of which is politicians, mostly, are like running water downhill. They’ll go to the point of least resistance, or at least a lot of them will. So these points of resistance, these dramatic moments, are one of the few times you might be able to get politicians to do courageous things, and that’s why I think the Republicans should continue to push and get the real, permanent reforms that we need.

HH: Now Governor, take the audience, if you would, into a little bit of what it is like in Iowa before the Ames Straw Poll, and what you are hearing from the people you are engaging. I saw you in Iowa when we did the Strong America Now event together, working the room downstairs, and then the large audience hall. What are they telling you as you go around the small towns and villages of Iowa?

TP: Well, first, as to that event, I was surprised that you traveled by limousine, and had that large of a posse, an entourage with you.

HH: (laughing) Well that…ambassadors do that.

TP: And you know, the crystal that they were serving you breakfast on, I thought, was a bit much, and the lemons, but nonetheless, I mean, you’re a national celebrity and talent, so I guess you might deserve that.

HH: (laughing)

TP: But on a more serious note, in Iowa, look, it’s summer. The people who are really concerned about the future of the country are showing up at pizza ranches, cafes, libraries, town halls. They want to meet you, they want to look you in the eye, they want to see what you’re made of, they want to hear your story. And it’s literally hand to hand. You can’t buy Iowa. You can’t just come in and write a big check. Iowans don’t fall for that. They’ve been there, done that. And so they’re looking for authenticity, they’re looking for what’s real. And I’ve been telling them to pick somebody who not only is good for Iowa, but can go the whole distance, because the goal here is to beat Barack Obama. We need a united party. We can’t have a candidate where the rest of the party and the rest of the country say I don’t think so. We need someone who can win in blue and purple places. We need somebody who’s got a demonstrated track record of executive leadership with results, and of course, when you add that all up, I tell them that’s me, and that’s my candidacy, and ask for their support.

HH: Now Congresswoman Bachmann is the prohibitive favorite for this Ames deal, and it’s got a lot of reasons for that, including your willingness to bus people. But say you finish fourth, whatever. Do you keep, does that in any way impact your campaign, Governor Pawlenty?

TP: Well, we’re, in the Des Moines Register poll, we are in sixth or seventh place, and our goal here is to move up from kind of the back of the pack towards the front of the pack. I don’t think we need to win it, Hugh, but we do need to show some progress. So we’re looking for some significant movement. We haven’t put a number on whether that means first, second, third or the like. But we do need to show some progress, and I’m confident that we will. And you know, it’s more of an organizational test than a poll, because people don’t just randomly show up. They’re organized to show up, and it’s a test of organization.

HH: Now in terms of the Iowa media, are they covering actual issues? Or is it the old horse race thing that’s taking over again?

TP: Well, it’s not just the Iowa media. Look, all the media tends to focus on polls and process and horse race, and back and forth. But I really do appreciate it when somebody actually asks about health care or taxes, or spending or your specific proposals. I mean, I’ve given the most specific concrete, pro-job, pro-investment speech of any candidate in the race by far, including the President at the University of Chicago. By the way, it’s at Those kinds of things get almost no coverage, but if there’s a new poll out, or there’s somebody says something goofy, then of course it’s national news. I wish it was more about the issues, but it is what it is.

HH: Last question, Governor Pawlenty, with about 45 seconds. President Obama seems to be doubling down on going left. As you look out to the general, how clear a choice is this going to be?

TP: Well, I think we’re in a beautiful position as Republicans and conservatives to get him out of office, and we should. We’re likely going to keep the House, we’ve got a great chance to keep the Senate, and we’ve got a golden opportunity, if we can get him out of the White House, Hugh. His numbers nationally aren’t very good. But if you look at his numbers amongst independents in swing states, they’re awful. And the main way we’re going to goof this up as conservatives is to nominate the wrong candidate. And I sure hope we don’t do that, and that’s why I’m pushing as hard as I can for my campaign and my vision for this country.

HH: Governor Tim Pawlenty, thank you so much, Just keep in mind the Baltic states need ambassadors, too.

End of interview.

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