HH: I start off with our friend, former Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. Governor, welcome back. I was out of the country when you withdrew from the presidential race, and was shocked and sorry to see you leave that race. Before we move on to the news you made today, would you recap for our audience what your thinking was, because that really did surprise a lot of us.
TP: Well, I decided that since you’re in the tank for the other candidates, I had no shot, and I needed to step down.
HH: (laughing) No, really. Why not…
TP: By the way, Hugh, I’ve got a new nickname for you that I think you’ll like.
TP: It’s a little early, but with the start of the hockey season in Minnesota, of course I know you love nicknames, and I’ve got a new one to bestow upon you, even though I’ve left office. But with my emeritus status as former governor, I’m going to bestow upon you the hockey designee of Puckheadisaurus Grande.
HH: I’ll take it, but I’m a little bit shy to be associated with Minnesota, since you guys lost to USC last week. And I was deeply disappointed by that.
TP: Oh, man…
HH: Governor, it’s been a month since you withdrew, and you’re not going to give me anything on that. But today, you go on Fox & Friends, and you endorse Mitt Romney. And you shocked a lot of people. Tell us the thinking behind that.
TP: Yeah, well, on your first question, we just ran out of money. We got upended in Ames. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have stretched out the resources a little bit. But we put a lot of chips down on that Ames Straw Poll, and it didn’t go well for us, Hugh. We came in third place, and it’s hard to go back out and raise money when you didn’t get the momentum that you hoped for, and promise coming out of Ames. But more importantly, as to today, I endorsed Mitt Romney, and I’m proud and excited and honored to have done that. He brings a lot of strengths to the table, but I think importantly, the next president is going to have to lead on jobs and the economy at a historic level for our country. And with his deep private sector business and job experience, I think he brings that in a fuller, better measure than any other candidate in the race. And Obama’s policies have failed, and obviously the Republicans now have a chance to lead, and I think Mitt Romney’s approach, with his background on jobs, is critical for our party and for the country.
HH: There are two other governors in the race, both of whom you worked with at the RGA, the Republican Governors Association – Governor Perry and Governor Huntsman. Of course, you worked with Governor Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts as well. So you had to weigh, you know all three of these people pretty well. Did you call them? Did you get input from them before you decided to go with Romney?
TP: Well, you know, I have over the years, and over the months been in contact with them for various things, so I know them, and I respect them. And this isn’t so much about some negative or bad thing about another candidate as it is I’m just convinced that Mitt Romney has the most capability, he’s the most capable, he’s the most knowledgeable, and he’s the most electable. And that in combination, I think, gives our party the best chance to beat Barack Obama, and more importantly, to get this country back on track. I think he’s going to be a great president.
HH: Now you not only endorsed him, you agreed to be his co-chair, which is a big deal, and that means you’re going to be spending a lot of time on campaign matters. How much time, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Well, you know, campaigns have co-chairs, and over time, more and more will be added, of course. And I want to help Governor Romney in any way that I can. But obviously, I’ve got other things I’ve got to do, too. But I’m committed to making sure I do all that I can to help him become president. But the co-chair role is a volunteer role. It’s not a formal, or staff, or full-time role.
HH: Has any of your staff gone over to his staff, yet, that you know, like Alex or anyone else?
TP: No, not that I’m aware of. So this just obviously unfolded this morning.
HH: Two big issues will dominate tonight – the Social Security debate, and then a lot of people are already writing on the blogosphere that how many times are they going to hear the words Obamneycare coined by Tim Pawlenty, co-chair of the Romney campaign over the next year or so. So let’s take them in reverse order. What about the mandate? Does it take him out of the primary fight?
TP: Well, for Republican primary voters, one of their main concerns is Obamacare. And I talked to Mitt about this, and he shared with me, as he shared with the country, that he’s absolutely committed to repealing Obamacare. And he said on day one, when he’s president, he’ll issue an executive order to allow states to opt out of Obamacare, and he’ll do everything else that he can in his power to repeal it. And so I have confidence, and believe and trust that that’s what he’ll do. And I think as president, he will get that done. So I’m comfortable with that, Hugh.
HH: And now the Social Security debate. And you saw the debate last Thursday night, it’s certain to come up tonight in Florida in a couple of hours when they get underway down there. How ought the Republican candidate to be talking about Social Security, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Well, I think it’s a reflection of some comments that were made in the last debate, but you know, I think Governor Romney has the better position here, which is this. Look, of course Social Security is in financial trouble, and it needs to be fixed. But it also needs to be maintained in a way that allows it to be available for current and future seniors. And so Governor Romney is committed to reforming it and fixing it, but he doesn’t believe it’s been a “failure”, or that it’s unconstitutional, or some of the other things that Governor Perry or others have said about it.
HH: Do you believe the race is now a two person race, Governor Pawlenty, between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney?
TP: I do, Hugh. With all due respect to the others, I think that’s at this point pretty evident. That doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t catch fire, or couldn’t have a dramatic moment, or do something that would bring them into the top tier. But based on what we know today, it does look like a race primarily between Governor Romney and Governor Perry. And like I said, there is only one candidate in this race with that deep private sector successful experience that we need in the next president.
HH: Now I’m told that today, Governor Jindal endorsed Governor Perry. I have not yet confirmed it to my satisfaction, but I’m told that. Have you heard that, Governor Pawlenty?
TP: Yeah, I have. I got asked about that in a couple of other interviews. You know, I know Bobby. I respect him. He’s a great governor for Louisiana, and he and Rick are nearby neighbors there with Texas and Louisiana next to each other. So it’s probably not a complete surprise. But governors, current or former, are going to line up behind these candidates in the coming weeks and months. I decided to do mine early, because if you’re a leader, and you believe the country is in trouble, you’ve got to put a marker out there. And that means some people will agree with you, some people will disagree. But I feel really good about my choice to endorse Governor Romney.
HH: Well, you and Governor Jindal are two of the biggest names in the RGA world, and you’ve also got Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Haley, Martinez, Sandoval, Brewer, there are a whole bunch of them. How quickly do you expect these governors to choose up sides in the Romney-Perry divide?
TP: Well, I think it’ll vary, Hugh, because for folks who either in their own state or more broadly are thinking about being a leader down the road, they don’t want to get in the middle of an intra-party battle that may alienate or make mad some of their folks. But I think a lot of them will endorse. They say they will. But you know, there’s a difference between talking about it and actually doing it. So my hope is that the leaders, including the governors, will step forward and start lining up. I’m going to do what I can to convince them to endorse Governor Romney.
HH: Does it feel like 1976, Tim Pawlenty? I’m a little bit older than you, so I remember it pretty well. I don’t know if you were out of junior high yet.
TP: You’re a lot older.
HH: (laughing) But that campaign was a knock-down, drag-out, 12 rounder. Is that what you think we’re going to have here?
TP: Well, you never know, Hugh. These things have a funny way of unfolding in unpredictable ways. And events and circumstances emerge that people don’t see coming. So you just never know. Anybody who tells you in the September before the September before the election that they can predict how this is going to unfold, either in the primaries or the general, is I think just speculative and blowing smoke. But what I do know is this. When the public and the Republican primary voters look at these candidates critically, and see the depth and breadth and scope of Mitt Romney’s record in the private sector as it relates to job growth, I think they’ll conclude he’s the best candidate. And like I said, I think he’s the most capable, the most knowledgeable, and the most electable. And don’t forget the last part. That’s important, too.
HH: Could Mitt Romney carry Minnesota?
TP: Absolutely. You know, you think about these swing states, Hugh. Everybody talks about the national polls, but you know that in the end, it comes down to just six or eight states. A lot of them tend to be places like Iowa and Wisconsin, maybe Minnesota, Ohio, perhaps Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado and some others. And if you look at the swing voters in that state, and how they feel about Mitt Romney historically and now, it gives us a great shot, I think the best shot, of winning over not just the Republicans and uniting the conservatives, but also winning the independent voters that are critical to winning the election.
HH: Did you watch the President’s speech on Thursday night? And if so, what did you think of it?
TP: You know, I didn’t watch it live. I watched excerpts of it. It seemed to me a bit on the desperate side. He came across again as lecturing. I thought it was an overreach. And in terms of the substance of it, there’s a few ideas in there I think are worth exploring. I think the idea on the payroll tax cut is worth exploring. But he hasn’t explained how he’s going to pay for it, nearly a half a trillion dollars of additional spending. And so once again, he ducks and bobs and weaves on the financial responsibility part of it. And some of the other ideas in there I think are just overreach as well.
HH: Last question, Governor Pawlenty. As co-chair of the Romney campaign, you may have some significant sway over future appointments. Now is the ambassador to Bermuda comes up, you’ll be sure to remember me in that conversation?
TP: I’m sorry, Hugh, the line is crackling. Did you say you wanted something?
HH: (laughing) No, not…just I think it would be a natural. Don’t you agree?
TP: (laughing) No, I disagree. I have seen you in shorts.
TP: I’ve seen you in sandals, and that’s not an image that the United States of America wants to project in Bermuda or anywhere else.
HH: Tim Pawlenty, it’s a great pleasure talking to you, Governor. Thanks for joining us today on the day he makes news. Tim Pawlenty endorsing Mitt Romney is big, big news for the Romney campaign.
End of interview.