Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty from the RGA in San Diego
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt broadcasting today from San Diego where the Republican Governors Association has convened to introduce the new breed to the old breed. And the outgoing vice chairman is an old friend of ours. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota joins me now in San Diego. Governor, it’s great to have you here.
TP: It’s great to be here. I don’t know about this old breed/new breed stuff. It sounds like some kind of dog kennel. What are you doing?
HH: Have you looked at the birth years for people like Nikki Haley? I’m aging…
TP: I’m feeling old, and I used to be the youngest. I used to be the youngest. I’m the old guard, I guess.
HH: I think Nikki Haley was born last year. I’m talking to Governor Haley, or Governor-elect Haley a little bit later, but it’s great to have you here. First question for you is about the verdict in New York City yesterday. What did you think of that?
TP: Well, I think we should all pause and make sure we understand the lessons of that. And I think President Obama made, and the Justice Department made a huge mistake in transferring that case to the civilian court. You have somebody who amongst other things, Hugh, was taken down in a ten hour firefight in Pakistan, in an al Qaeda safe house, allegedly. And you had somebody who clearly tried to kill and injure dozens or more people. And the only conviction they get out of him is relating to destruction of property. Now there’s a lot of underneath the hood of that, but the point is there is a major disconnect between that conclusion and his behavior. And the big problem in that regard was bringing that into civilian court, because of the way they couldn’t consider the other things that are under the hood.
HH: Should that end? Should that practice end?
TP: Absolutely. Yes.
HH: Okay, and should Eric Holder resign?
TP: You know, I think Eric Holder and the Justice Department made a fundamental mistake, and they put the country, almost put the country at risk, and may still have done it if they continue down this path. And I don’t think you can just stay in that position and have those kinds of outcomes.
HH: That’s a yes.
HH: Let me ask you about the tax, massive tax hike that is pending. I heard Paul Ryan, who I admire a lot, and he’s got to be a great friend of yours across the river…
TP: He’s awesome. I love him.
HH: He doesn’t know much about football, right? But…
TP: Well, you know, everybody’s got their weaknesses.
HH: But Paul Ryan was on Sean Hannity earlier this week, and he said look, we’ll get a two to a three year extension of the Bush tax cuts. And I kind of said what? What’s your position on the length of extension or permanence of the Bush tax cuts?
TP: Well, a couple of things. It’s really important that people campaign like they’re going to govern, and govern like they campaigned. I believe and hope and trust that this new crop of Republicans that are going to take over Washington, D.C. will now do what they said. And that means we’ve got to extend those tax cuts permanently, Hugh. But President Obama is going to have to, you know, weigh in on that. But I think it’s really important that our team fulfill the promises that they made on that campaign trail and try their very best. And if he vetoes it, he vetoes it. But I think they’ve got to put it on his desk, permanent extensions.
HH: Permanent. Now I’m talking to a lot of the governors today, the incoming ones especially, about what they can do in their state with Republican legislatures to fix the business climate, especially with regard to tort reform. You never had a legislature on your side.
TP: Yeah, but we did get tort reform, believe it or not. I had Republican, one part of the legislature for part of my time as governor. And by the way, these Republican governors who are coming in are just fabulous, and in many cases, they’ve got Republican legislatures. You’re going to see a transformative era in American politics and policy coming out of the states that will inform the nation. And I think it’s going to be a really historic time. And you’re going to love these new governors. And as to tort reform in Minnesota, we did joint and several liability reform, I won’t bore your listeners with the details, but it was a major change in our tort reform policies. And we also have done in the past some medical malpractice reform in Minnesota, and we’ve got lower than average medical malpractice costs as a result.
HH: What’s the most important thing, you know, if you’re talking…coming after you is John Kasich if he can find the room. He’s from Ohio, I’m sure he’ll be here.
HH: But if that happens…by the way, has Minnesota ever beaten Ohio State in the course of your governorship?
TP: No, I don’t think so.
HH: I don’t think so, either. I just wanted to point that out. But if in fact you can get anything you want on tort reform, what do you ask for? What would you tell these new governors to ask for?
TP: Well, I think for me, if you could go for the whole thing, if I could just impose something, I’d say loser pays. And I know that’s a long ball, but why should I have to, if you frivolously sue me, why should I have to pay all of those expenses and costs and burdens? And I think that would be one of the best reforms we could put in. The person who loses the case pays.
HH: Right. I don’t suppose you want to declare for the presidency today?
TP: Uh, no.
HH: When you do, can I talk to you on the day of at least?
TP: (laughing) Hugh, yeah, of course.
HH: If you do.
TP: I mean, if I do. If I do.
HH: Okay, I’m going to hold you to that.
TP: All right. Make sure we do that.
HH: Given that, last week, Nancy Reagan, great American on behalf of a great institution, the Reagan Library, announced that Politico and NBC were going to hold the first debate of this presidential season with all the would-be GOP presidential nominees at the Reagan Library in the spring of 2011. First of all, did they contact you? What did you tell them? And what do you think of the idea?
TP: You know, I haven’t been contacted. I think it’s a great idea to have the Reagan Library and Nancy Reagan involved in the inaugural debate of whatever or whoever ends up running for president in 2012, starting in the spring of 2011. I think it was wise that they didn’t put a specific date on it, because I think this field’s going to start later than normal, and it’s going to still be crystallizing in the late winter, early spring of next year. So I think it was for them to give themselves a little flexibility about what date that they pick. But I think it’s a terrific idea, and I applaud her, and I applaud the great work of the Reagan Library. I think they couldn’t ask for a better place to do it.
HH: Now obviously, you haven’t been reading the Hughhewitt.com, Governor Pawlenty, because I hate the idea of starting before the fall, and I really don’t like the idea of NBC mediating the discussion between GOP would-be presidents for the first debate. So Politico is center-left, but NBC? It’s Olbermann’s network.
TP: Well, on the NBC side of it, I guess I didn’t pay that close of attention to their role. I saw Politico and I saw Nancy Reagan, and you know, Politico I think is fair-handed in how they cover things. But I give the tip of the cap to Nancy Reagan, and her team hopefully will make sure that it’s done in a proper fashion.
HH: so if they pull it off, if they extend that invite, you’ll show up, if in fact you decide to run?
TP: Well, if I’m in the race, and Nancy Reagan asks you to come and show up in a debate, you wouldn’t turn that down, now would you?
HH: You might if you wanted to score points with the conservative base.
HH: Let me ask you now about President Bush. He’s been on the road a lot, and I’ve been reading his book and listening to it on the drive down today from up in Los Angeles. A few comments I want to bounce off you, because if you run for president, you’re going to have to worry about Ahmadinejad. In this book, Bush said he came to the realization, “this guy is nuts.” What do you think of that, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Well, when you have somebody who makes the kinds of comments that he makes, and including, by the way, that he believes essentially in the destruction of Israel, that’s not somebody who’s rational. There’s a lot of other commentary people who claim to have known him in some walk of life that would indicate he’s imbalance, or perhaps even sociopathic. And so you have clear indications that this is a very troubled individual. And I can’t clinically diagnose him from afar, but I think we have to take him at his word, which is he believes in the destruction of our ally and friend in the Middle East, Israel, and we can’t allow him to have the capacity to do that. And we’ve got to take that very seriously.
HH: What did you think of President Obama criticizing Israel from Indonesia, a country that doesn’t even allow Israelis to enter the country?
TP: Well, I think the…beyond just his comments in Indonesia, his strained relationship with Israel overall is very troubling. Hugh, we have allies in the world who are both philosophically and otherwise practically…there can be no light between us and them. And Israel is one of those allies. And every time that he casts a doubt on our alignment and backing of Israel, he creates space, either rhetorically or tactically for some enemy of Israel to try to wedge in there. It’s corrosive not only to our relationship with Israel, but I think it invites a bigger, broader and deeper danger when people who are Israel’s enemies and our enemies see that there may be some daylight between us. And there shouldn’t be. That needs to be closed, and it starts with the president saying we stand with Israel, and there is no increment of difference between our position and theirs on these important strategic topics.
HH: When you see that daylight opening, do you think it’s intentional on his part? Or is he simply incompetent in the regard to how it’s perceived in the world?
TP: I think he has, in my opinion, a very naïve view of foreign policy. I’ve been to Iraq five times. I’ve been to Afghanistan three times. I’ve been to Israel. I’ve been all over the Middle East. I’ve been on these trade missions to South America, China and the like. And I believe this, and maybe you’ve learned this on the playground. Maybe you’ve learned it in business. Maybe you’ve learned it in other walks of life. When you’re dealing with bullies, they respect strength. They don’t respect weakness. And we’re dealing, in many cases, with individuals, entities and countries in parts of the world that are basically thugs. And they need to understand strength. And what we project in Obama’s case is equivocation, uncertainty. He believes that he’s going to extend his hand, and if he could only talk to them they would succumb to his, you know, charisma or his rhetorical skills. And in fact, they see it as weak. And I think we need to project on behalf of the United States of America a national security and foreign affairs posture that respects, that projects strength. And I don’t care, frankly, whether the United States is popular in certain places around the world. I care whether we’re respected, and I care whether we’re secure. And we need to put those goals first, and put the popularity, the international popularity contest down the list. And unfortunately, I think President Obama has it in the reverse.
HH: Now one of the other quotes, a very memorable one, listening to the Bush memoir, is his statement, unequivocal, “the direction of history bends towards liberty.” Do you agree with that, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Yes, absolutely. But it can’t be taken for granted. I mean, you’ve got to be purposeful about it. Everything we know and believe about that can be altered if it’s not role modeled, if it’s not taught, if it’s not displayed, if it’s not…people are uneducated about it. So these values, these principles in liberty and democracy and freedom have to be passed on to the next generation. And whether you’re the president, a governor, a member of Congress, a community leader, a patriot, a citizen, we need to make sure we remind each other and reinforce each other every day that what differentiates us from the rest of the world is liberty and freedom.
HH: You have a new book coming out, Courage To Stand, January 11th.
TP: Thanks for mentioning that. I appreciate that.
HH: I hope you’ll come back and see us, or talk to us at least when the book comes out.
TP: I absolutely will. Thanks for having me on, Hugh, and thanks for being here at the RGA.
HH: Governor Tim Pawlenty, thanks for doing the RGA for all these years, and good luck in the years ahead. Thanks for your eight years of service in the great state of Minnesota.
TP: It’s been an honor. Thanks, Hugh.
HH: What am I going to do when I go to Minnesota now? I’m not going to know the governor anymore.
TP: Well, you know, we’ll try to introduce you to the next person.
HH: All right. Take care, Tim Pawlenty.
End of interview.