Tim Pawlenty on the failed presidency, both here and abroad
HH: Joined as promised now by former Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. Governor, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
TP: Well, Professor Hewitt, it’s good to be back with you, and I hope the weather is not sweltering in Naples for you today.
HH: No, the storm bands have let up for a little bit, so we’re able to broadcast. So now I understand what the Weather Channel does, which is simply watch the rain. Governor, the last time you were on, the Twins were only a couple of games behind the Indians. They’re now 7 ½ behind the Tribe. I just, there’s still a place for you on the Cleveland Indians bus if you want to get on.
TP: Uh, that bus is headed in the wrong direction for me, Hugh. We do have the worst record in the American League in our Minnesota Twins, but they’re showing some signs of life. There’s a glimmer of hope, so I’m hanging onto that.
HH: All right, let me ask you about this past weekend. You and a number of other Republicans were, like John Thune and Kelly Ayotte and a number of people, joined Governor Romney, Ann Romney, and a host of supporters in Utah. What was the mood of that gathering about the prospects for November?
TP: Well, hopeful, and a sense of urgency and meaning, because the people gathered there understand that President Obama has had his chance and hasn’t worked. He has a failed presidency. We’ve got too many Americans who are hurting. And he’s not only misguided, but in my view, his economic theory and other theories are outright dangerous for the country. And we’ve got a situation, we’ve got 23 million Americans unemployed or under-employed, or stopped looking for work. He really has no clue, and so there’s a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose, but also a sense of real energy and hope and optimism around the Romney campaign. They’re raising money at a good level. Mitt’s improved tremendously as a candidate. He’s doing a fabulous job, he’s got a great agenda. So there was a real sense of energy, hope and optimism about the campaign going forward.
HH: Now Governor Pawlenty, it’s a complicated political environment. Not only do we have the Obamacare decision coming down on Thursday, we had the SB 1070 decision yesterday, we had the President’s executive order the week before, we had the President’s statement on same sex marriage the month before that. In the middle of sort of like a story a week, what is the central, or what ought to be the central question of this election?
TP: Well, as you think of it as an overarching theme, it’s the role and size of government in people’s lives. And it has many component parts. But when you have, for example, entrepreneurs, small businesses saying look, the load has just gotten too heavy, some talk about taxes, some talk about regulation, some talk about energy prices, some talk about health care costs. But they all point to the government and say you’re making it too difficult. You’re making it too discouraging. Do things to encourage me. Do things to lighten the load, not make it heavier. And what they’re really saying is get the government off my back. And then you’ve got people who for a long time have kind of looked at government with maybe different views, but they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not working. It’s too big, it’s too expensive, it’s suffocating the economy, and it’s hurting their jobs for them and their family. And they’re ready to look in a different direction, and that’s for Mitt Romney.
HH: Now you won a couple of elections in a blue state, and you picked up the pieces after Jesse Ventura, so you know how to campaign in hostile territory. Romney’s got to win in states that went blue in ’08, or it’s just another loss for the Republicans. Who are the key demographics, the key voting groups that that appeal has to be made to, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Well, not to oversimplify, Hugh, but it comes down, really, as you know, to six to ten states, and they include Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, hopefully Pennsylvania and Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, maybe a few others. All the states are important, but those are the real battleground states at present. But within those states, you know about 35% of the people, minimally, are going to vote Republican, about 35% minimally are going to vote Democrat, so that takes care of about 70% of the folks already accounted for, and it leaves about 30% on the table. Most of them call themselves independents, but half of them really aren’t. They have pretty strong predispositions towards the R or the D. So you’re really down to about 15% of the voters in those six to ten states that are going to be the hinge or swing or deciding vote. They’re not entirely, but they’re disproportionately women, particularly suburban women, they’re blue collar men, they also include Hispanic and Latino voters. And though those aren’t the only key demographics, but those are some of the key demographics that will be disproportionately important in this race. And look, women are more open to Mitt than they would be, perhaps, for some other Republican candidates in some other years, so there’s some running room there. Blue collar men are kind of fed up with President Obama, and they’re willing to give Governor Romney a fair hearing and a fair chance. He’s picking up support there, and we saw, of course, big, Earth-shattering changes politically in Wisconsin. And in Latino and Hispanic voters, we’ve got to do better, Hugh. But that doesn’t mean we throw our principles and values about the rule of law out the window, but we do need to do a better job over time of appealing to those Hispanic and Latino voters who are open to a conservative message. And increasingly, you’re seeing that window be open.
HH: Let’s talk about those groups in turn, beginning with women. I’m here at the conference of the Alliance for Defending Freedom. And ADF has been on the side of the Roman Catholic Church in resisting these HHS regulations, which are just a naked attack on the Catholic Church. But is it possible for the Romney campaign, for the Governor and his running mate, to make the argument without falling into the trap of the so-called war against women, that these HHS regs are really an attack on the Catholic Church.
TP: Yeah, setting aside the underlying policy considerations, when you have the federal government tell a religious organization that they must do things, or can’t do things that are either consistent or inconsistent with their core religious tenets, that’s a government, in my view, that’s gone too far and violates the Constitution. And people can have different views on the policy issues, but I think most Americans still understand and respect and appreciate those Constitutional protections and limits. And to have the federal government tell the Catholic Church or another church you must do things that are fundamentally against your core religious tenets, that’s a government that’s out of control and has gone too far.
HH: So is it possible to make that argument without falling into the ‘you’re anti-women’ rebound from the left?
TP: I think it absolutely is. And actually, you see a lot of women who are affiliated with the Catholic Church who are very upset about the Obama administration’s approach to that. And again, I think you can make it in a thoughtful way that appeals to people based on limited government, based on respect for religious freedom, and not having a heavy-handed government in that regard, and appeal to women voters and not alienate them.
HH: Okay, what’s your advice not only to Governor Romney, but to every Republican running up and down the ticket on the immigration issue and the attempt to box the GOP in as being anti-young people brought here against their will with no participation in the decision, who have never even learned the language of their so-called home state?
TP: Well, I think Governor Romney has been a great role model in that regard, Hugh. He has echoed and reminded people in the nation based on the rule of law you have to have respect for and enforcement of the law, including our immigration laws. And he’s called for, of course, enforcement and employment verification. But he’s also said, look, there’s some common sense things we have to do in addition to enforcement. For example, if you come here and you get an advanced degree, he’s talked about the value to our country economically and otherwise of giving individuals with advanced degrees green cards so we take advantage of their talents and keep them here. He’s talked about improving the seasonal and temporary worker system so that people can actually legally come here and work temporarily if there’s a need, but to have that process work so that the permits don’t issue after the season has already ended, which happens a lot, by the way. He’s also said with respect to young people who are here through no fault of their own, brought by their parents, he’s willing to be open to try to find a permanent fix, not some eleventh hour political temporary fix like President Obama as part of a larger solution. So those are some of the things he’s been talking about, and the importance of making sure that the tone is not harsh or condemning, but that we have a rule of law based first approach on enforcement, but that we also offer some other things. Keep in mind, Hugh, that with Latino and Hispanic votes, some commentators just think the only thing they care about is immigration. Well, guess what? If you poll them, they’re as concerned or more concerned about the economy and jobs. And they’re open to a message other than from President Obama on that very, very important issue.
HH: Governor Pawlenty, I want to conclude by talking about foreign affairs. I believe when you were governor, and in charge of the Minnesota National Guard, you visited both Iraq and Afghanistan. Am I correct about that?
TP: I did. I went to Iraq five times, and Afghanistan three times, and a bunch of other places, too, but it was a great honor to go visit our troops there.
HH: Now on those trips, and in the context of this campaign, no one is much talking about the fact that the Iraq war was closed without a great deal of forethought for the status of forces agreement, and the Afghanistan war continues on. How do you think the Republicans ought to talk about both the conflict that is over and the one that continues over the next four months?
TP: It’s really important for leaders, whether you’re a candidate or ultimately the president, to be the vision caster, and use the bully pulpit to raise awareness on important issues, even if they’re not popular. Say what you will about President Bush, he was willing to use his political capital and his bully pulpit to raise these important security issues. It’s important that leaders do that. President Obama rarely, if ever, even talks about it, which is unfortunate, because these remain important concerns and considerations for the country. But as it relates to Iraq, obviously he has the troops out of there. We hope and pray that that will continue in a democratic direction, but they need our support in democracy building, and with respect to calling attention to human rights concerns and working on that. And we hope that that goes well. We’re going to obviously keep troops in places like Kuwait over the horizon. In Afghanistan, I wish the President would not have set an arbitrary and public deadline. The 2014 deadline that both he and others have mentioned, including Governor Romney, may end up to be an appropriate deadline, Hugh, but you don’t announce that and make it arbitrary. If you have a deadline, you keep it internal, and you also scale up…
HH: Governor, I’ve got an arbitrary deadline now, so I’ve got to go, but thank you for joining me, Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota.
End of interview.