Tim Pawlenty formally kicks off his presidential campaign at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa today. He’s been making the rounds of the Monday morning talk shows in advance of the big moment, and his office has released some excerpts from his announcement address. He’s also produced a well-made announcement video to set the theme for his campaign:
Judging from the video, Pawlenty has decided to embrace his low-key image with good cheer, as he tells the viewer why he’s chosen to discard flash and dazzle in favor of quiet honesty. The flavor of this campaign will be vanilla, but it will be the really good vanilla they serve at the very best ice cream shops. Mix this vanilla with root beer, and the result is an elixir that dissolves deficits and reduces the size of government.
The former governor of Minnesota offers a resume of success at bringing red-state governance to a blue state. “In Minnesota and in Washington, the issues were the same: taxes, spending, health care, unions, and the courts,” he says in his announcement speech. “But in Washington, Barack Obama has consistently stood for higher taxes, more spending, more government, more powerful special interests, and less individual freedom. In Minnesota, I cut taxes, cut spending, instituted health care choice and performance pay for teachers, reformed our union benefits, and appointed constitutional conservatives to the Supreme Court. That is how you lead a liberal state in a conservative direction.”
Pawlenty has said he wants to avoid talking down the other candidates, instead focusing his criticism on the man he wants to replace. “President Obama’s policies have failed,” he declares. “But more than that, he won’t even tell us the truth about what it’s really going to take to get out of the mess we’re in. … I’m going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth.”
He expects this level of honesty to be difficult. “Politicians are often afraid that if they’re too honest, they might lose an election. I’m afraid that in 2012, if we’re not honest enough, we may lose our country. If we want to grow our economy, we need to shrink our government. If we want to create jobs, we need to encourage job creators. If we want our children to be free to pursue their dreams, we can’t shackle them with our debts. This is a time for truth.”
Pawlenty says he wants to avoid direct criticism of the other Republican candidates, focusing instead on the man he seeks to replace. Instead, he’s been drawing some powerful indirect contrasts, particularly with another former Republican governor of a blue state who won’t admit that a certain policy initiative was an absolute disaster.
For his part, Pawlenty has been openly admitting he was wrong to support job-killing cap-and-trade legislation. “I’ve said: look, I made a mistake,” he told radio host Laura Ingraham back in March. “I think cap-and-trade would be a ham-fisted, unhelpful, damaging thing to the economy. It’s misguided. I made the mistake. I admit it. I’m not trying to be cute about it. I just come out and tell you it was a mistake.” He said much the same thing during the first GOP presidential debate in South Carolina.
It will be interesting to see if Pawlenty’s frank admission of error flies with a Tea Party-infused Republican electorate, which values both honesty and the ability to immediately see proposals like cap-and-trade as offensive to liberty and capitalism. I think they’ll appreciate the honesty.
Pawlenty’s been having a pretty good month, as various other policy-wonk candidates either self-destruct or decide not to enter the race. He’s wise to play up his cheerful demeanor, instead of re-inventing himself with fire and brimstone. We’ll soon learn if a nice guy can finish first.