By almost universal acclamation, Newt Gingrich’s presidential launch was a disaster. But there was someone else who recently announced his candidacy with nearly flawless execution: Tim Pawlenty. In his announcement speech, Governor Pawlenty sought to create an appealing narrative: he is a truth teller who’s willing to make difficult but necessary decisions. But what made this storyline particularly effective was that he backed it up.
In Iowa, for example, Pawlenty said we couldn’t afford subsidies for ethanol. In senior-rich Florida earlier this week, he called for fundamental changes in Social Security and other entitlement programs. And when asked about the Paul Ryan budget plan, he gave this pitch-perfect response:
I applaud Congressman Ryan for his courage and his leadership in putting his plan forward. At least he has a plan. President Obama doesn’t have a plan. The Democrats don’t have a plan. And I really applaud his leadership and his courage in putting a plan on the table. Number two, we will have our own plan; it will have many similarities to Congressman Ryan’s plan, but it will have some differences, one of which will be we’ll address Social Security. He chose not to; we are addressing Social Security. And the Medicare part of our plan will have some differences, too. It will have some similarities also. So we’ll have our own plan. But if I can’t have my own plan — as president, I’ll have my own plan [but] if I can’t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan’s plan, of course I would sign it.
Governor Pawlenty’s opponents will try to turn the truth-telling claim against him, pushing him to take unpopular stands on a range of issues in the name of truth-telling. We’ll see how he does in response. But Pawlenty has shown himself to be not only an impressive governor but also, at this very early stage, an impressive candidate. There are plenty of grueling tests ahead for Pawlenty to be sure; the GOP political gunfight hasn’t yet begun – and when it does Pawlenty will be the target of others. But it’s clear that the former Minnesota governor is a formidable individual who has assembled what looks to be a formidable team. And Pawlenty has already established a thematic rationale for his candidacy that is more appealing and more impressive than anyone else in the Republican field