Pawlenty Aims at a New Reagan Coalition - Commentary

The Republican Party contains a number of factions that don’t always play nicely together. Social conservatives, evangelicals, Tea Partiers, Club for Growth-type economic conservatives, and foreign policy-oriented neoconservatives have often been at cross-purposes with each other in recent years. And with so many of the Republican presidential contenders clearly aiming their campaigns at only segments of the electorate the fracturing of the GOP could be accentuated in the coming year.

So it ought to be refreshing for party stalwarts to have heard Tim Pawlenty’s address on economics at the University of Chicago this morning. The speech was more than just an attempt to stake out a position as a hard-core opponent of taxes and spending. It also seemed to me to be part of a strategy in which the likable if low-key and largely unknown Pawlenty takes a shot at reassembling the broad-based coalition that elected Ronald Reagan.

In his address, Pawlenty put forth an optimistic pro-growth and anti-tax credo that should resonate with the Tea Party as well as with the Club for Growth crowd. His position is grounded in belief in the market as well as distaste for President Obama’s central planning and class warfare puts him squarely in the Republican mainstream.  That will open him up to barbs from the left that will paint him as an extremist on taxes, but in doing so he seems to be attempting to give the voters a clear choice on terms that places the president at a disadvantage.

But it should also be understood that this speech shows that Pawlenty is determined to fight for more than just the conservative Christians that he may naturally appeal to in Iowa. A candidate who can bridge the gap between social conservatives, anti-tax conservatives and foreign policy conservatives is one who is aiming for more than just the 30 percent of the vote in Iowa that might get him to the next level in the primary gauntlet. Pawlenty, who has also made strong and informed statements on foreign policy, seems to be trying to reunite the disparate wings of his party.

In fairness, this is the same goal that Mitt Romney has set for himself but unlike the former Massachusetts governor, Pawlenty is not carrying around the burden of having promulgated a government health-care program that bears a great resemblance to Obamacare. Though Romney is raising lots of money and doing well in national polls, RomneyCare makes it impossible for him to unite Republicans even if he managed to maneuver his way to the nomination.

Only time will tell whether Pawlenty is the man who can recreate Ronald Reagan’s big tent GOP, but he deserves credit for trying.

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